HL Deb 16 May 1984 vol 451 cc1477-500

7.53 p.m.

Lord Wells-Pestell rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider the objectives and priorities set out in the Home Secretary's recent statement on the probation service in England and Wales.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. On the 14th May 1934, 50 years ago last Monday, I was appointed a probation officer in the London probation service, serving the East End of London, which I did for a good number of years. Although I left the service soon after the war I continued a very close association with it and was for a period a vice-president of the National Association of Probation Officers. I have always considered their problems as my problems, as many of your Lordships know. During the last half century there have been many changes in the probation service and I feel it is a much better service now than ever it has been before. Today we have a very competent, able and well informed group of men and women throughout England and Wales.

On 1st May, the Home Office issued a statement on national objectives and priorities for the probation service. It is not possible for me to go into that statement in great detail: it would not be fair to your Lordships or to those who have agreed to speak tonight. The statement was the outcome of some 18 months of discussion with the Home Office, including some consultation with the probation organisations, including the National Association of Probation Officers and the Association of Chief Probation Officers. Most of the discussion, if in fact it could be called that, was undertaken by the exchange of memoranda, the first draft coming from the Home Office, with the interested parties submitting memoranda by way of reply. There was some face-to-face discussion but not a great deal and, as your Lordships know, there has been very little press coverage for this statement.

I am concerned—and 1 want to say this as nicely as I can: I do not want to be considered offensive in any way—about the competence of those at the Home Office who are responsible for the statement of objectives and priorities, who probably have had no practical experience at all of being a probation officer. I know that the noble Lord the Minister is going to tell me that they had the experience of probation inspectors. They had that experience, but it is a very different thing, when you come to prepare and write a memorandum, to do it after discussion with some people who have worked in the field if you yourself have had no practical experience.

I want at this stage to ask the noble Lord two questions. Did this group of civil servants consult the Magistrates' Association as to what they felt ought to be the objectives and priorities in the probation service? Did they consult the president of the Family Division?—for so much of the work of a probation officer is concerned with the family. I should like an answer to those two questions.

While I and my friends in the probation service find ourselves in agreement with some of the comments in that statement, we feel that the Home Office has failed to provide a positive programme for the future development of the probation service. There is in the statement a narrow preoccupation with cost cutting which is unrealistic having regard to the importance of the service to the community. It is because of the importance of the service to the community that I really am surprised that they did not seek advice, guidance or expert help from other bodies, two of which—the Magistrates' Association and the Family Division—I have mentioned.

Let me be quite frank and say that we applaud the statement that the probation service's first priority, should be to ensure that wherever possible offenders can be dealt with by non-custodial measures and that probation orders and community service orders should be made available, especially in cases where custodial sentences would otherwise be imposed.

It should not be necessary, but I want to stress that probation orders should be used more often as an alternative to custody and less often as a response to a first or minor offence. I believe that this is also the view of the Home Office; and it should become operative as soon as possible.

Many people who are now in our prisons could be dealt with by community service orders, and we look to the Home Secretary to draw this to the attention of magistrates and judges. Unless he does that, his feelings will not be known to them. I think we all appreciate that, if there is one thing that the present Home Secretary wants to do, it is to see that the right kind of treatment is meted out to offenders.

The statement makes the point that social inquiry reports should be concentrated on cases, where the court may be prepared to divert an offender from what would otherwise be a custodial sentence. There must be more selective use of reports by the courts, in order to make better use of probation officers' time".

I want to ask the Minister whether the Home Office has made it clear—if it has, I have not been able to find it—on the matter of social inquiry reports, whether they ought to be considered in precisely the same way, at the same rate for the same cases, or whether any instruction is about to be given as to how they should be used? We all know that probation officers undertake an enormous number of social inquiries, some of which are quite useless if the offender is dealt with in some other way. I have known cases where social reports have been asked for but the case has not been dealt with for six or eight months, and then the court has asked for another one to bring the matter up to date. That is very time-consuming and time-wasting.

My friends and I are concerned at the failure of the Home Office to plan for the continued growth of the probation service. It is stated: Provision made by the Government is intended to allow the probation service to grow by rather more than 3 per cent. in 1984–85". The Home Office knows, and no doubt the Minister knows, that local authorities provide 20 per cent. of probation funds and that the financial position of most local authorities is such that 3 per cent. is unrealistic and unwise. It is a responsibility which the Home Office itself must undertake.

The statement gives a low priority to after-care for offenders released from custody. I came prepared to say something about this, but my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich is far better able and more experienced than I am, so I propose to make no further comment about that.

The statement also gives a low priority to the civil work of the probation service, which occupies about 10 per cent. of its resources. By "civil work", the Home Office means the issues of custody and access to children affected by the separation or divorce of their parents. In 1982 the service compiled over 28,000 reports for magistrates, county courts and High Courts and was responsible for over 15,000 supervision orders in civil cases. This does not take into account the guardian ad litem work which it undertakes. This is a time-consuming occupation, but the Home Office says that the work must be contained.

I think I can say without giving offence that very few people understand the value of these reports in custody cases. Husbands and wives rush off and consult a solicitor who, quite properly, takes the matter before a court. It ends up with the child being used as a battledore and shuttlecock between the father and the mother, and it begins to develop an intense dislike for one or other of the parents. I can say from my own personal experience, and from the experience of those in the service, that when these matters are left to probation officers agreement is more often than not arrived at between the husband and wife and even the child and they remain with a fairly good relationship. But the Home Office says that this is to be given a low priority, whatever that may mean.

The statement goes on to say that this kind of work should now be contained, and perhaps the Minister will interpret those words so that we know what they mean. A low priority for civil work and after-care will mean that a great deal of valuable work which is being done not so much in the interests of the community, but in the interests of the children concerned, will be lost. What is more, if this happens we shall have a very poor pattern of probation work in the various districts.

I should have liked to say something about formulating a plan for the future of the probation service, but I do not have time; I do not intend to speak any longer. But I hope that one of the subsequent speakers will say something about it. We must have a future plan for the probation service, which is much more understandable and realistic than the one suggested in the statement.

8.7 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I begin with something of an apology, because this is the second time that I have spoken in the past hour on rather different matters. But I should like to say how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for having raised this matter. As he has indicated, he has had a lifetime's interest in, and concern for, the probation service and it is of great help to the probation service that he has raised this matter tonight. Although I say that, I do not agree in all respects with the criticisms he has made, but in one or two respects we probably share a common outlook.

First, I welcome the statement. It is the first clearly defined national statement of what the objectives of the probation service should be and, as the Home Office—sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly—gets hit over the head most of the time, when it does something well it is rather nice to say so. I know that the small group of ex-Home Office Ministers who are here—apart from the noble Lord, Lord Elton—will share that view. The job has been well done by Ministers and I do not wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, on this point. It is also a first-class piece of work by the officials who have been responsible for drafting this document. However, it is right to say that it is one thing to have national objectives, but it is a very different thing to try to apply them.

In a Written Answer in another place, which he gave at the time of the publication of this statement, the Home Secretary indicated that it is for chief probation officers and probation and after-care committees themselves to decide what their own order of priorities should be. That, in my view, is correct and proper, but they should certainly take account of this national statement of objectives which has been published in the past few weeks.

First—this is one of the points upon which I do not wholly share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell—there are. I believe, genuine resource problems for not only the probation service but also the social work agencies. This would be true, whatever form of government we had. The fact is that there were limitations during the lifetime of the Labour Government. There had to be. It is right to recognise that under both the Labour Government and the present Government there has been some improve-ment in the resources made available for the probation service. As the statement points out, in 20 years the service has multiplied in number by over 500 per cent. I should be surprised if there were many other areas of activity where there has been quite such a degree of growth. I welcome that. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that if we impose new responsibilities upon the probation service—and we are anxious to impose them in order to reduce the size of the prison population—it is essential to recognise at the outset what the implications are for probation manpower.

It is also right to recognise the value of this statement. No other service receives such a high degree of support from central government. As we all know, 80 per cent. of the costs of the probation service are met from central government funds. This is a far higher degree of support than is given to the police service or to any other area of Home Office responsibility. That being so, it was absolutely right for the Government to publish this statement.

I speak today only for myself, and I do so on the basis of having been a Minister responsible for the probation service for five years and for having, for rather over three years, been chairman of the Parole Board. Essentially, the message of the statement is right: that the probation service is primarily a criminal justice service. Most of us have recognised for a long time that if we are to make a real drive towards getting down the number of people in prison it is essential that the probation service should define its responsibilities far more pecisely. The statement is right in saying, in relation to the work of the service in the courts, that, given the limitation of resources, social inquiry reports should be concentrated on cases where such reports are statutorily required, or where a probation order is likely to be considered and the court may be prepared to divert an offender from a custodial sentence. There is much else in the statement with which I agree.

May I now state some of my anxieties about the statement. There are three. First, I am concerned about the reference to non-statutory after-care and the suggestion that a lower form of priority should be accorded to it. Again, given the limitations of resources which I believe will exist, whatever form of government we have in this country, I do not favour encouraging probation officers to maintain regular contact with a wide range of ex-offenders, some of whom may not be in urgent need of their services. I do not believe that we shall ever have sufficient resources to make that kind of approach possible. We have to recognise that tough decisions have to be made about resources. That is necessary when you are a Minister, and it is only right to recognise the truth of that statement when you are not a Minister.

But if we are going to try to reduce the size of the prison population, what about those people, to take one example, who do not at the moment get parole? We know that those who do get parole are recommended for parole by the Parole Board, or the recommendation comes to the Home Office direct from the local review committee. There has to be a carefully detailed release plan. That is important, The release plan deals with housing arrangements for the offender and with any other arrangements which can be made to deal with his employment problems. But what about the person who has got immense personal difficulties and who, because of those difficulties, or because he has committed a grave offence, or because he has breached parole on a previous occasion and has been recalled to prison, does not get parole at all? There is a danger that if the general approach of this statement is taken too literally, probation officers will not feel that it is incumbent upon them to deal with that offender, on the ground that he is not one of their most urgent responsibilities. It would be a very great pity, were that to be true.

I repeat: if we are going to try to reduce the number of people who are sucked back into prison after a relatively short period in the community, I believe that it is absolutely essential that people at risk, emerging from prison in the circumstances which I have described, should get all the help that the probation service can give them.

That is my first anxiety. My second relates to civil work, which is downgraded in the statement. This is hardly surprising. The Home Office has no direct responsibility for the divorce courts in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, may recall that in a debate just over a year ago I asked him whether any effort would be made to encourage the Lord Chancellor's department to pay for the work which the Home Office was doing on the Lord Chancellor's behalf. Bluntly, if the probation service is not going to do this work—let us recognise that the statement means that they will be encouraged to give it a lower priority—who will do it? It will have to be done by somebody. If the probation service, which I know has an enthusiasm for doing work of this kind, is going to be asked, as it certainly will be, by divorce court judges to take on work of this kind, it seems to me to be right to return to this question: why should the Lord Chancellor's department not pay for the work carried out by the probation service in the divorce courts?

The problem is caused because of the delineation of responsibilities between the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's department, with the Home Office responsible for the criminal courts and the Lord Chancellor's department responsible for the civil courts. It has been recognised in this statement for the first time. I welcome that fact. Since the problem has arisen, I believe that far more serious attention will have to be paid with regard to how this matter is handled by these two departments of state.

I turn now to paragraph 6 of the Government's statement which contains a reference to the work of the probation service in relation to outside agencies. The paragraph reads: There must be a continual process of interaction with other agencies and other interests—locally between probation committees, the management and staff of area services, the courts, the police, the prison service, local authorities, local government services", et cetera. I agree with that. It is absolutely splendid. But I wonder what it actually means. I wonder also whether anything, in fact, will be done about it. It is one thing to say that this should be our objective; it is quite another thing to ensure that it actually takes place. I should like to quote a comment on this point made by the National Association of Senior Probation Officers, of which I have the honour to be president. They state: However, we are unaware, at our level, of any sense in which the service 'shares with others … the task of developing a planned and co-ordinated response' etc. Indeed, it frequently seems to us that other agencies in the criminal justice system are working at cross purposes with us and with each other. If it is the intention of the Home Office that an inter-agency planned and co-ordinated approach should be developed (and this is a development which we would strongly support) then it is necessary both to say so clearly and to indicate some of the means whereby such co-operation might be fostered. The possibility of inter-agency policy review committees at county level is one idea that occurs to us". I shall be very interested to hear what the noble Lord. Lord Elton, has to say on that particular point. It is an important question.

In the lifetime of the Labour Government, as the result of a conference that took place at Ditchley of a number of chief constables and directors of education and social services, it was decided to try to fashion in some way a co-ordinated response of the kind set out in this document, at local level. After many agonising drafting sessions, a joint circular was eventually sent out by the Home Office with the DHSS and, I believe from memory, the DES as well.

This suggested that chief constables should take the responsibility for convening conferences in their own areas; bringing together the various other people responsible for social work agencies, including chief probation officers. That seemed to me at the time to be rather a good idea—obviously it did, as otherwise the circular would not have gone out. Nevertheless, I am interested in knowing whether this process is continuing. Is the Home Office still encouraging that particular development of regular meetings between chief constables, chief probation officers, directors of education and directors of social services so that they can discuss together local problems—discussions which would otherwise not take place? One point that became absolutely clear at the time we were discussing this development originally was how irregularly such contact had been made in local communities.

Finally, I should like to turn to a point that has not been touched on in any direct way. It relates to training. The statement is largely silent on this question, although the publication of this statement of objectives does in my view carry with it very substan-tial training implications. Again, I should like to quote the view of the National Association of Senior Probation Officers. I apologise to the House for the fact that it is a rather lengthy quotation, but nevertheless it sums up some of the problems rather well: We see the statement as confirming the trend away from ideals of the police court missionary as epitomised by the phrase 'advise, assist and befriend' towards a more central role in the criminal justice system with its emphasis on the management of crime within the community. For this trend to be managerially sustainable will require not only an input of training in management skills, particularly at senior probation officer level, but also a substantial revision of basic probation officer training. At present this relies too heavily on training for social work without recognising the very different task that probation officers are required to undertake as opposed to social workers. There is an urgent need for the training base to be broadened to take account of the enlarged range of activities performed, methods undertaken and skills required by the present-day probation service. In view of the rather self-congratulatory approach of the accademics responsible for social work training, we see little impetus for change coming from present training sources and the road ahead lies in the probation service taking back to itself the task of basic training, possibly within a central probation college". I recognise that the Minister is not going to commit himself to a central probation college this evening—it would be rather remarkable were he to do so. Nevertheless, this is an important matter. The probation service has no training resources of its own. There are quite sophisticated training facilities available to the police service—and a very good thing, too. There are substantial training resources for the prison service—but there is an enormous gap so far as the probation service is concerned. I hope that this will receive attention in the future.

Having said that, I have indicated that—subject to the qualifications that I have mentioned in the debate this evening—I broadly welcome the approach of the document and I wish it well.

8.25 p.m.

Lord Rhodes

My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for having introduced this subject tonight. I congratulate the Home Office on the clarity of its well thought-out statement, and also on the document on justice that was issued last week. My speech will be a little recital of practical events with a bearing on those documents.

Successive Home Secretaries have sincerely tried to stem the tide of increasing crime, with only limited success. We welcome the working paper Criminal Justice and the statement on national objectives and priorities for the probation service which have been issued during the past fortnight. The remarks I have to make are directed to the statement on the probation service. The statement clearly identifies the need to maintain a whole range of facilities for use by the courts and the probation service. It highlights the need to assist all those returning to everyday life from custody. To this end, we in the community are urged to rally around and to make a prime contribution by involving ourselves in the rehabilitation of the offender. Quite rightly, for without that involvement of the community in the rehabilitation of an offender, rehabilitation is a non-starter.

We have been doing that in Manchester for the past 13 years; that is, carrying out the tenets which are mentioned in the two documents. Our trust is called the Selcare Trust. It comprises Crown Court judges, probation officers, magistrates and a fine lot of people from the general public. Last week, we held our annual general meeting in Manchester Town Hall. It was one of the most vibrant meetings I have attended in recent years; it was one of the finest meetings I have ever had the privilege to attend. The hall was full. It is now recognised that we are making the kind of progress that is paying off in this particular field.

I ask your Lordships to give me your indulgence when I read out the progress that we have made in Manchester during the past 13 years. If my name crops up occasionally, please forgive me. We started first with an organisation, involving the head probation officer for Manchester. In 1971 the Chadderton Guest House was opened as a rehabilitation centre for older men, to help many of the men living there avoid further crime and breakdown. In 1972 it was the Bury Family Centre for women needing help—wives of prisoners who did not know how to add up. In 1973 it was the Failsworth Guest House for homeless women and their babies, especially when leaving hospital or prison.

In 1974 it was the Oldham Anchor Club—an evening centre for the isolated and lonely, a day centre for community groups with special aims, and so on. In 1974, we had the Bolton Guest House for homeless men in single rooms; and rooms for battered wives, unmarried mothers or the homeless from care or prison. In 1975 we had the East Manchester, Beswick Guest House, for homeless young men in the 17 to 21 age group discharged from detention.

In 1976 we were registered as a housing association. In 1976 we had "the Lady Rhodes", a narrowboat. This is a marvellous project where probation officers give of their own time to take out young lads who have just started offending against the law. Then we had Flagg Barn, another place in Derbyshire that we have for young offenders to learn sensible adventures. Again, the probation service comes up trumps, because much is done in their own time. I shall soon be through this list. In 1979 there was Stretford, a group support scheme providing facilities for a number of probation officers in the area. In 1980 there was Leigh, a bed-sit rehabilitation unit for six homeless men discharged from prison. Then, in 1981 there was the Manchester Forward Drive Scheme, the Manchester Coach Scheme and the Manchester Day Centre for all after-care contacts, where people can put down their names so that they can keep in touch with really good influences day by day.

In 1981 there was an extension to Chadderton House to accommodate men discharged from prison. In 1982, in Manchester, we obtained paramount control of two existing and successful hostels. This is absolutely fantastic. One is for men and the other is a stopover home for young women who, shall I say, are seen and looked after, having arrived at Piccadilly Station with nowhere to go and no home. In 1982 Failsworth House was reopened for homeless males discharged from prison. Also in 1982 Leigh Hostel was opened. In 1983 seven developments were commenced. I shall come to a conclusion in a few moments. This year, Princess Margaret opened the Rhodes Centre in Oldham—a resource centre able to cater for many groups and which contains the original Anchor Club. The building had been completely gutted and rebuilt, mainly using Manpower Services labour skills. It is to be used from mid-December, and was officially opened in February.

I shall come to what we want to do in a moment. Your Lordships will have noticed that the accent is on accommodation. We know it to be true that there is a correlation between homelessness and offending. The dosshouse is no place for a young person. This work has been the most rewarding thing that I have ever been associated with in the probation service. I would not have believed it when first I started, but it grows and the public are ready to help. Even old offenders stay out of trouble longer. Accommodation other than dosshouses is a must if we are to have any success with young offenders. I say this deliberately, because I know it to be true. They must have something of a place that they can call their own. I do not know how many of your Lordships were brought up in a large family in crowded conditions, as I was. The only bit of space of one's own was half a small drawer. The defence you put up against any encroachment on that half-drawer was sometimes nearly lethal. In my opinion, having a place to call their own, however tiny, is a most powerful influence on an offender who is trying to adjust to ordinary life again.

Where my Trust thinks the Government strategy comes unstuck is in linking the priorities to their actual budgeting. In other words, they are not putting their money where their mouth is. The Cinderella section of the Home Office—C6 Department—which deals with the voluntary sector of the community, has had last year's budget of £5,106,000 increased by 11 per cent. It was increased to this figure by the addition of some £250,000-plus only after we had made strong representations from the voluntary sector, complaining that it had committed this amount in its building programmes in line with principles previously agreed with the Home Office. It was increased only with a clear warning that this amount will not be included after 1984–5 and that no request for increased support for supported accommodation projects will be accepted in the near future.

Surely the Government must be aware that the community accommodation project takes two or three years to materialise, and a break at this point not only puts it back 12 months but cancels the whole programme, which cannot be restarted for at least two or three years? Without that £250,000-plus, the increase to that sector is approximately only 5 per cent.—just an inflation increase. The 3 per cent. does not apply on this basis. That is not an increase calculated to give confidence to the community.

Will the Minister tell us whether, after getting the good will and the offer of practical help to carry on this work in our further developments, we should now say, "We are sorry, but we do not want you"? History in this country spells out how the voluntary effort has very often been kicked in the teeth. As I have said, the Government have given a clear warning that no request for increased support for supported accommodation projects will be accepted in the future. I cannot believe that the Government could be so callous or so stupid. In sheer practical terms the financial saving to the community and to the country is considerable. Do your Lordships realise that it costs £200 a week to keep a person in prison? We can keep them out for a fraction of that amount. Look at what we have done already. It fits like a hand in a glove all the criteria that the Home Office is urging us to adopt.

What I am saying is that this work must go on. This is one of the few examples of success. Ten regions have imitated what we have been trying to do in Manchester. We have a whole set of first-class people working with other first-class people in the probation service, ready and willing to do this rehabilitation job. All we need is the capital for the original buildings. The ordinary committees in the localities will look after the revenue. Please think again when you are thinking in terms of starving an organisation like this which is doing such a magnificent job.

8.40 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in the debate on this subject which is initiated by my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell, who is certainly more qualified by long experience of the probation service to discuss these matters than anyone else. Lord Harris, who I believe will be returning in a moment, has had very significant Home Office experience. The noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, has, I am sure, moved us all with his account of the work he is involved in at first hand. May I say that my remarks, less eloquent and slightly less concrete, will move along the same lines as his.

I am not one of those who will become very enthusiastic about this paper. If one was the tutor of whoever wrote it, one would tell the person to go away and put it more briefly. I think that the whole thing is unduly prolonged and ambiguous. I do not see why one should pay the officials any special tributes. Lord Harris was of course in charge of these officials, or people almost identical, so it is reasonable to think that loyalty would cause him to find merit here which might not be so apparent to the rest of us. But at any rate, here is the document, and I am glad that we have it and that the noble Lord has raised the matter this evening.

As those on whom I have inflicted myself in this House before now will know, I should like to see a great expansion of the probation service. I shall not dwell on that matter now, though it has been touched on by other speakers. The rate of increase indicated here is, in my eyes, quite insufficient. I would take the view that in any enlightened plan for the future of our penal arrangements we should have far more probation officers to undertake the supervision of people who either are not sent to prison at all or who are released from prison, and there would be much less money spent on new buildings which we would then merely proceed to fill up with prisoners who might as well in many cases not be there. In general terms, I would like to see a much more rapid expansion of the probation service, but I recognise that this was not the remit of the officials who drew up this document, and it would not be fair to criticise them on that account. Let us take the paper as we find it. I will leave over all the issues except that of after-care. I hope Lord Harris might be here by the time I reach his points on this, but, if not, I shall not say anything, I think, that he will find offensive, because in these latter days he and I seem to agree much more than we used to.

I have had a long connection with the after-care of prisoners, but my memory of the probation service does not go back as far as that of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. But, now nearly 30 years ago, I and others founded the New Bridge to help those who had been in prison, and a few years after that I was chairman of a committee—what was then called the Pakenham-Thompson Committee—which produced a report recommending a national system of after-care. The Home Office soon after that promoted an inquiry through its advisory committee. Moving on from that point, I think at the beginning of 1964 or thereabouts it was renamed the probation service. It became from the beginning of 1964 the Probation and After-Care Service. Those who were concerned then with after-care were very much encouraged by that development and by the indication that at last we had a national system of after-care.

Those interested in after-care at that time certainly understood that to mean that in future when a man came out of prison he would be able to find some identifiable person to whom he could turn for help. That was 20 years ago. I shall come back to the question of whether that will continue to be the position or whether in future there will not be such a person. But, at any rate, that was considered the most encouraging development 20 years ago—that when a person came out of prison there would be someone to turn to.

In some ways prisoners were even a little better off than someone who had not been to prison. If you found people who had been (shall we say?) dismissed from their job for petty stealing, if they had not been to prison they would not be able to go to a probation officer. There was no one for them to turn to, so in a way it was a privilege for people who had been to prison, but it was about the only privilege then or now that they possessed—that they had somebody to whom they could turn on coming out of prison.

Let us see what we have today. We are told that it is no longer to be called the Probation and After-Care Service. When I say that we are told today that it is no longer to be called that, I am aware that the name was changed in the Criminal Justice Act. If noble Lords point out to me that I might have caused a little trouble at the time and failed to do so, I can only say that, like many greater people, I nodded. It escaped my attention. However, the noble Lord may or may not be aware of the views of the National Association of Probation Officers. There may be other views that have reached him which flow from the probation service or those concerned with it, but as far as NAPO is concerned, I have been in touch with it in the last few days and it points out that it resented the removal of the word "After-Care" from the title.

I do not know whether the noble Lord the Minister will be able to say anything to encourage us on that point. I understand from NAPO that it received assurances at that time that this did not mean that those who came out of prison in future would not be able to turn to someone, as they had in the past. But I must ask the noble Lord, whether the change of name which is now before us this evening, and this paper which confirms this point of view, represent any discontinuance of a service which previously existed. Will prisoners coming out of prison be worse off in future? I must put that to him clearly.

The paper itself, as I ventured to say earlier, is not a model of clarity, but on this point, the language used is rather frightening. The Government paper says: the Service has the following principal tasks", and the third one is: providing through-care for offenders sentenced to custody, and exercising supervision after release in cases where required by law". I repeat that: exercising supervision … where required by law". That would be, as I understand it, where there is a statutory duty. But there is no mention here of after-care for those who are not under any compulsory supervision.

Later, when we turn on to what is now called "through-care"—I do not object to that word, because it includes contact with prisoners while they are still in prison—under heading C, "Through-care", we find this: assisting prisoners while in custody"— well and good— and in preparation for and following release". There it is: "assisting prisoners … following release". So it would appear from the task which they have undertaken for the last 20 years, with limited resources but to the best of their ability, that they would still have that duty cast on them of helping all prisoners after release, whether or not they are under supervision. I must press the noble Lord to give us some sort of reassurance on that point. That would of course be one way of answering the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, who was very much concerned with the dangers.

This question of supervision is full of complications. I do not know that the task of a probation officer who is supervising an ex-prisoner is totally different from the task of a probation officer who is befriending or helping an ex-prisoner who is not under supervision. It is different but it is not totally different. We know that a good schoolmaster is the tutor and also the friend of his pupils. I do not know that one can draw too sharp a line between supervision and friendship in the case of prisoners. Nevertheless, the point I am making is the one that I made just now, that prisoners not under supervision—I have no time to discuss those who are under supervision—are all important in the eyes of many of us for the reasons which have been dwelt on by the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes.

Before I close, may I say just one word from the point of view of the New Bridge Society for ex-prisoners, which I helped to found and of which I am now president. There was a feeling in that society, and I have no doubt in other voluntary societies—maybe in the one with which Lord Rhodes is connected—that the implication of this paper is a lessening of the importance attached to voluntary participation in penal policy. I hope the noble Lord might be able to say something encouraging about that. Will the noble Lord be able to tell us that there is no lessening of the emphasis on the importance of voluntary work?

After all, we know that volunteers bring something which others cannot bring. It is difficult to define it but for many prisoners it is rather more acceptable than those who appear, however well-intentioned, to be agents of the state. They have some advantage in other ways. too. On the other hand, they have the disadvantage that they are part-time and their services may be rather more intermittent. So I am not trying to say that volunteers are better than the probation officers. What we have had up until now is a very happy combination in most parts of the country, so far as I am aware, between the volunteers and the probation service. I want to be sure that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will be able to say something to encourage that continued participation.

I will not take long. I promised the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip that I would speak for 12 minutes. I have spoken for 12 minutes precisely, so I will close. But I do want to press the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on the question of whether in future those who are not under supervision, who have emerged from prison, will still have a probation officer to look to as they have at the present time.

8.52 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, this House is often fortunate in having Motions introduced and participated in, by way of debate, by those who have special experience. Tonight is no exception. My noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell, quite apart from performing a great public service by bringing this matter before the House, has done so with the experience of which he spoke and of which his noble freinds and other members of this House are well aware. I think we were all touched by the contribution of my noble friend Lord Rhodes. In the course of his distinguished and long career, he has most likely heard the phrase "What Manchester did yesterday, the rest of the country will do tomorrow". I imagine that that really was the burden of his speech and of his hope.

My noble friend Lord Longford—whose contributions on matters of this kind are always so welcome—very pertinently said at the close of his speech that he had made a promise to the Opposition Chief Whip that his speech would last only 12 minutes. I believe it was a hint.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, it was the Government Chief Whip.

Lord Mishcon

The Government Chief Whip, my Lords? Oh, I do not regard any promises of that nature as binding on me! I thought he had made it to the Opposition Chief Whip and I therefore looked round for the limit on my own speech. But what I aim to do, whatever really may be the duty of a winding-up speaker, is to try to talk very briefly about matters that have not been very substantially dealt with by other speakers but merely touched upon. Possibly I might even be able to bring a fresh point to your Lordships' attention.

I should like to start by saying that it is very sensible of the Government to have a document of this kind. As has been pointed out—and it says so in the document itself—it is the first such document that has been produced. Therefore they deserve congratulation for that. After a little bit of optimism at the beginning of the document that no doubt it would have the warm approval—I do not think those were the actual words used—of the probation service, there is later in the introduction to the document a very polite reference to the fact that no doubt the very relevant organisations will submit their views and comments on the document itself. But at least we have a document to discuss. For that, the Government deserve praise.

I would say this, though I do not think it is a terribly original thought. If ever there was any branch or any agency that one might hope would, first of all, succeed in reducing the prison population of this country, which is such an urgent problem, it is the probation officers, the very service about which we are talking. I would go on to say that there is a terrific problem of recidivism that we have encountered in all the figures we have discussed when we have considered penal matters. For reducing this, the probation officers are indeed our main hope.

You can go on saying as often as you like that, as a judge, the law provides that you should not make a probation order and you should not make a community service order unless you feel that the only alternative to that is prison. I tried to say this when we were dealing with the Juries (Disqualification) Bill. I regret to say this in his absence, but the noble and learned Lord, with that magnificent flow of language that he employs and with a smile that very soon turns into laughter and persuades everybody else to laugh with him, described the whole attitude of people as thinking that probation orders and community service orders were made without this thought very well in the judge's mind, If I may most respectfully say so, he was saying something, which just is not correct in practice.

Most of our courts, thinking that the supervision at home did not seem to be good enough for the young person before them and that the parents seemed not to have succeeded in keeping the young man from being present in court that day, would not think of sending him to prison at all but would just think that a dose of probation order and/or supervision would do him a power of good. The judge may very often also feel that a little bit of public service, a little bit of work doing good for the community would really be a healthy way of dealing with the offender before him. Again, it may not be in respect of an offence, whatever the Act may say, which would normally carry with it, but for the community service order provision, a prison sentence. So the probation service is always going to be a very busy service indeed. It is our hope for keeping many out of court again.

Having regard to that, and having regard to what the document itself talks of as the qualities that are necessary for the probation service, perhaps I may quote what the document does say. It states: The task of running the Service has therefore become more demanding both managerially in terms of the size, variety and complexity of resources involved"— and these are the important words— and professionally in terms of the demands which are made on the objectivity, judgement and commitment of individual probation officers and those responsible for their professional development and supervision". I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, who spoke about the absence from this document of any reference to training for the probation service and any detailed plans for that training. I shall not repeat the point that the noble Lord made so well and so eloquently. I underline it. I must, however, bring again to the attention of the House that, if this is the quality of the personnel that we are looking for in this vital service, how extraordinary it is that the Government recently decided to reduce the pay for trainees in this service so as to make it so difficult for the right type of person—those with the particular, valuable and rare qualities that the document itself sets out as being the qualities and characteristics necessary for a successful probation officer—to come forward and be trained to fulfil this terribly difficult role.

On the question of numbers, reference has been made to what is stated in the document about the 3 per cent. increase for the coming year. I do not quite know what the 3 per cent. figure relates to. If I remember correctly, there are two figures given in the comparison to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, drew attention so properly, of the rise in the 20 years. The noble Lord mentioned that it was 500 per cent. I believe that the last figures given in the document, relating to only a year or so ago, are 6,000 in the case of probation officers and, I believe 5,000 for their ancillary assistants. What I do not know and what I hope the noble Lord the Minister will tell me is whether it is 3 per cent. on the 6,000 only, or is it 3 per cent. on the total of the 6,000 and the 5,000 ancillary workers? I believe that some amount of interest will be taken in that reply.

Other speakers have talked about after-care. I am going to keep to my promise not to repeat in inferior language what others have said so much better than I should. There is, however, a quotation which I do not believe has been made and which I should like to read from the document, although, peculiarly enough, I believe that my noble friend Lord Longford did quote from the preceding sentence.

Previous speakers have dealt with the social work that is being done by probation officers after prisoners leave prison. One obviously relates that to the hope—the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, referred to this so movingly—of giving them homes and some sort of possibility of rehabilitation with their families which will make it possible for them not to return to prison. It is in that context that I quote from paragraph VI(c) on page 5 of the document that we are discussing: Beyond that, social work for offenders released from custody, though important in itself, can only command the priority which is consistent with the main objective of implementing non-custodial measures for offenders who might otherwise receive custodial sentences". That is officialese—I do not say that in any slighting sense—for saying, "It is quite meritorious but, from our point of view, we put it at the bottom of the list". It should be nowhere near the bottom of the list. My noble friend Lord Rhodes emphasised that point as indeed did my noble friend Lord Longford and others.

You will be relieved to know, my Lords, that I am on my last point. It is a matter to which other speakers have referred, but the point I make is different. It relates to the very low priority that is given to the proportion of resources allocated for civil work. Again, the rather dampening words are used that this, should be contained at a level consistent with local circumstances and the foregoing priorities". I am not going to repeat the question, "Who is going to do it?" It is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, raised. I am not even going to say, "Oh dear, 80 per cent. and 20 per cent. Why doesn't the Lord Chancellor's department bear the burden here for this charge in respect of work done by the probation service?" I say that it should not be done by probation officers at all unless they happen to be dealing with families with some sort of prison background that is part of the problem. From these Benches and other Benches, there has been the plea over recent years that family problems should be dealt with by family courts and not by magistrates' courts and not by the Divorce Court as happens at the moment.

When one is dealing with the pathetic problems, and they are indeed pathetic, of the children, and the quarrels over children's custody, these are things that should be dealt with by social workers attached to the family courts, not by probation officers who are associated, as the document says, part and parcel with the programme of dealing with criminal law. There may be probation officers who are well able to help, but this is not the province of the probation officer in the normal case. It is for the social workers that so many of us want attached to the family courts. I have exceeded my noble friend Lord Longford by two minutes in winding up. I hope that I shall be forgiven.

9.7 p.m.

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

My Lords, the House is clearly and rightly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, whom I also am tempted to refer to as my noble friend, for this opportunity to discuss the work of the probation service so soon after the issue by my right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary of the statement of national objectives and priorities for the probation service.

When the noble Lord addresses the House about the probation service he does so with knowledge and authority. Indeed, in the light of the credentials which he recited at the beginning of this evening, how could it be otherwise? Looking around the Chamber and looking at the credentials of other noble contributors, how could I do other than listen with the greatest of respect and deference to the whole of this debate? Although we are small in number, apart from myself your Lordships concentrate a very considerable volume of experience and authority on this vital service.

The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, is concerned about the statement, but let us consider first the service itself. In recent years, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has generously acknowledged, it has undergone tremendous growth and change. In 1963, 94 area services employed about 2,000 probation officers and some other staff at a cost of about £4.5 million. At that time it did little more than supervise offenders on probation, prepare social inquiry reports and engage in civil work arising from matrimonial disputes and the custody of children.

Since then the probation service has become responsible for social work in prison department establishments and for both the voluntary and statutory after-care of offenders released from custody; for running day centres and hostels; for organising community service and for providing some intermediate treatment facilities. It is involved in adoption work and conciliation work and engages itself with statutory and voluntary agencies in a wide range of activities. In the financial year 1983–84, 56 area services employed almost 6,000 probation officers and about 5,000 ancillary and support staff at a cost of some £150 million.

I can bear out the arithmetic of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that therefore the number of full-time workers was roughly treble what it was in 1963. The total number of people working in the service was about five times what it was in 1963 and the annual expenditure had increased to more than 30 times what it had been over a period of 10 years, to cover a much wider area of concern.

That is a measure of the extent of the change in the service over that period. Through that time, public attitudes also have been changing. There has been concern about the steady increase in crime and about the apparent inability of the criminal justice system to contain it; and there has been increasing interest in victims and in crime prevention. The probation service has to take account not only of its clients' needs but of the interests and concerns of the wider community in which it operates and which it serves.

But resources are not infinite and they cannot be used indiscriminately. Therefore, it is necessary to have a link between objectives and budgets. The service cannot expect to go on growing as it has in the past. The Government have indeed made provision for a 3 per cent. growth in 1983–84. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asked, "Three per cent. of what?" The provision is for growth of 3 per cent. in probation officers and support services. But it is for individual probation committees to decide how to allocate their budgets. Last year's growth achieved more than 3 per cent. in probation officers—close on 200 extra—plus more than 100 ancillary officers. I hope that is a sufficiently mathematically exact reply to the noble Lord's interest.

In future we shall be expecting the probation service to concentrate on making the most effective use of the resources which it has already. It must expect to meet increased demand for its services by more efficient and economical use of its existing manpower and facilities. In addition, a basis was needed for the application to the probation service of the Government's financial management initiative. The intention is to ensure that the 80 per cent. grant we pay on the probation service is related to clear objectives and is securing value for money. There can be no objection to getting more for the same amount of cash.

All this pointed to the need to provide probation committees and probation service management with a clear indication of what my right honourable and learned friend saw as the service's present objectives and priorities. But the statement which he has issued is not carved on tablets of stone and it is not immutable for all time. Circumstances and need have altered in the past. Doubtless they will alter in the future. Nor do the Government intend that their view should be applied uniformly throughout England and Wales. Circumstances and needs also vary from place to place.

But we are confident that in setting objectives and priorities for their own area service, probation committees and chief probation officers will have regard both to the national objectives and priorities which have been set for the probation service and to the local circumstances, needs and resources within which they are operating. This is primarily, of course, a task for probation committees on the advice of chief officers; but the probation inspectorate will be ready to assist in any way that it can.

Copies of the statement have been placed in the Library. Let me briefly say that it sets the probation service in the wider context of the criminal justice system. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, for referring to the working document on the criminal justice system which gives all the parameters and which I commend to your Lordships. There is already a copy in the Library.

The statement emphasises the importance of a planned and co-ordinated response to crime and the importance of public confidence, both in the probation service and in the criminal justice system generally. The statement goes on to look at the probation service itself and indicates my right honourable friend's firm belief that its central objective is the supervision of offenders in the community. This was the original task of the probation service; it continues to be its principal task. Its influence and credibility would be seriously undermined if preoccupation with other work led to its falling down on this responsibility. The statement then sets out the service's related objectives of providing advice to the courts; of supervision of non-custodial orders; of providing through-care for people in custody; and of meeting the separate statutory duties arising from civil work.

The statement suggests a broad order of priorities. I may be going over familiar ground, but I think that it is worth putting them on the record from this Box. The first priority is to ensure that wherever possible offenders can be dealt with by non-custodial measures and that standards of supervision are set and maintained at the level required for this purpose. I think that we are all agreed that it has been a prime concern of this House for a number of years to try and prevent anybody who need not go into custody, from going into custody. Secondly, resources should be allocated to the preparation of social inquiry reports on the basis that standards will be similarly set and maintained, but that reports will be prepared on a more selective basis consistent with the first objective. A draft circular on social inquiry reports is to be issued, following a review and drawing together of existing guidance and policy on the use of these reports. We shall be consulting the service on this exercise and it will, therefore, take a little time.

The third objective is that sufficient resources should be allocated to the through-care of those in custody to enable statutory duties to be met; but beyond that, social work for offenders released from custody, though important, should command only the priority which is consistent with the main objective of diverting offenders so that they do not get into custody at all in the first place. Fourthly, the service should devote sufficient management effort and other resources to make an appropriate and effective contribution to the wider work of the community, including the civil work tasks required by statute.

The statement ends by recognising that its implementation may involve a redistribution of resources or a change in priorities for individual area probation services and suggests that in general the first priority—that of providing for non-custodial disposals for offenders—will continue to require an increasing proportion of the service's total resources, that civil and community work will require an increased contribution from management but not necessarily of total manpower, and that the remaining objectives will be achieved by using existing or slightly reduced levels of resources more efficiently.

The statement is a Home Office document; it has been produced in consultation with the probation service and we have taken account of the views which organisations representing the service have expressed. The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, who questioned the nature and extent of that consultation—and I should like to deal with the matter on two perspectives—referred, first, to exchanges of minutes of correspendence. There was a meeting with the Central Council of Probation Committees, a meeting with the National Association of Probation Officers, and two meetings with the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, plus informal contacts, I understand, with the officials of the organisation. But copies of the statement were not sent to the Magistrates' Association or the President of the Family Division (which is what the noble Lord asked about) and they were not consulted—I am not sure that I have said what I meant to say. I should have said that copies of the statement in fact were sent to those bodies, but they were not consulted. If that is not what I first said, then it is what I meant to say.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but am I to understand that copies of these documents went to the Magistrates' Association and to the Family Division of the High Court?

Lord Elton

Yes, my Lords, the noble Lord and I can understand that. They were not consulted, and that was the noble Lord's concern; but they had been asked to comment on the statement. It seemed preferable to get something out as a basis for discussion and consultation and into the field rather than consulting, as it were, in a vacuum. Time seemed to be of the essence. It would not have been sufficient to consult just these two organisations but other bodies and other members of the higher judiciary, and this could have taken a long time in view of the need for the statement as a basis for the financial management initiative.

The statement is therefore a working document; it is both a document on which we expect probation committees and chief probation officers to act now, and one on which we hope that the service and other agencies in the criminal justice system will comment. In our letter to the service and other agencies we specifically said that we looked forward to receiving comments on the objectives and priorities set out in the statement. We were not specific as to the timing. We expect some comments to come in fairly soon, and noble Lords' own comments have come in rapidly. But others will come in in the longer term as people get experience of the consequences of the priorities. It is expected therefore that we shall issue further statements in the future which will reflect the experience and views of the service and others.

Your Lordships will see, therefore, that the consultation process, far from being truncated, is continuing, and I hope that this debate will give a boost to the interest and reaction of other bodies outside this House. The statement recognises that the service can no longer expect to grow at the rate it has done in the past, and that if greater use is to be made of non-custodial disposals for offenders it will have to manage its resources even more effectively than it does at present. This involves examining all its practices and procedures critically in order to eliminate unnecessary, inappropriate or ineffective tasks.

Here may I answer the concern of the noble Earl, Lord Longford (whose valuable pioneering work in this field I gladly acknowledge) that the probation service is no longer called the probation and after-care service? As the noble Earl knows, the reference to after-care was introduced in 1966 and it demonstrated the service's commitment to the then new function of after-care. Since then, the service has assumed a wider range of additional functions of which after-care is but one. Important though after-care is, it seemed inappropriate to continue the reference to that one function, and so with the agreement of a wide spectrum of opinion within the service—and indeed your Lordships' House—the service reverted to its original title; but the change was purely semantic. It did not indicate any change in emphasis. I can assure the noble Earl that with the increasing use of parole the probation service's statutory responsibilities in the field of after-care are indeed most remotely likely to diminish.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I was particularly raising the question of people who come out of prison, men and women, who are not under any supervisory obligation but who, up until now, have been able to look to a probation officer for help.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am coming to that. If I have not come to it by the end of the speech, will the noble Earl interrupt me again because it is there somewhere? This brings me to the place in the order of priorities given to voluntary after-care. The fact that it is not high on the list should not be interpreted to mean that my right honourable friend does not attach importance to the contribution which proper and relevant after-care should make to reducing the likelihood of a person re-offending.

As an earnest of this, I should like to remind the House of the important role which has been, and continues to be, played by the after-care hostel scheme. Through the grants that it makes, the Home Office contributes to the provision of some 3,800 places in a range of accommodation projects which are available to offenders released from prison, including those on parole. Area probation services are closely involved in the development and management of such projects which provide a useful means of helping offenders re-settle in the community, and are seen very much as a response to local need. The number of places funded through the scheme has increased by more than half since 1979, and will continue to increase in 1984 to 1985, though we shall have to assess whether there is an adequate case for any further expansion thereafter.

Here I find my note to myself. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, asked to whom can the prisoner coming out of prison turn? Ex-prisoners have a statutory entitlement to voluntary after-care for 12 months after release. But voluntary after-care is a demand-related service. The ex-prisoners can seek the help of probation officers if they feel they want it and the probation service will always respond. Although non-mandatory work has a lower priority than that arising from mandatory supervision, it will continue to be undertaken to the extent that ex-prisoners ask for it. I think that is an answer to the noble Earl.

On the subject of voluntary after-care I am particularly glad to acknowledge the admirable work referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, done by Selcare. I am glad to be able to say that it receives £50,000 a year from the Home Office for the revenue support of its after-care hostels and has received several capital grants for day care projects, including £29,000 towards the cost of the recently opened Rhodes Centre—properly so named—in Oldham, and £25,000 towards the acquisition of St. Georges School in Wigan. This support which we have given, and are continuing to give, to Selcare towards the costs of these valuable projects is in earnest of the determination of my right honourable friend to give a proper measure of support to the work of the voluntary after-care organisations.

Indeed, I share the regret of the noble Lord that his assistance cannot be more. But as I have had to say many times before, resources are finite. If one project is to be given additional resources, it can only be at the expense of some other project or other effort from which those additional resources must be taken. I hope that does not make the noble Lord think that I am one with the less appreciative of the work which he enumerated and which we admire.

The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, felt that the statement had failed to produce a positive programme for the development of the probation service. If that means more staff doing more work, I am not sure that I can accept that charge. Since the Government took office in 1979 the size of the probation service has increased from 5,200 probation officers to almost 6,000, and from 3,600 to 5,000 ancillary and other staff. The statement, he will notice, is neutral on further growth but suggests objectives and priorities for the work the probation service is already doing. Those objectives and priorities, indeed the work, may well change as society continues to change and I repeat that the statement is not fixed in time. It is a handbook for the present and the immediate future.

Noble Lords have been concerned about the low apparent priority given to the after-care of prisoners and to civil work. Inevitably if one establishes an order of priorities everybody wants one thing at the top and nobody wants his own thing at the bottom. I have tried to make it quite clear that all the priorities are priorities, but there has to be an order and I have tried to explain how that is arrived at.

The primary purpose of the probation service must be the supervision of offenders subject to probation orders and other orders. All we are doing is giving an indication of the order of priorities. The Government recognise that in many areas of its work the probation service reacts to the demands made upon it by the courts and other agencies. This is particularly so in the preparation of social inquiry reports and in matrimonial work, in which a number of your Lordships are interested. The courts will be aware of the statement and the Government's view of the order of priorities which should be given to the service's various tasks. Copies of the statement were sent out to the Magistrates' Association and the Justices Clerks' Society and we also expect the chief probation officers and probation committees to consult the magistrates in their area.

Local action is usually the most effective way of tailoring national objectives to local actions. In the first place it is for the probation committees, which are largely made up of representatives from the local bench and the crown court and from probation service management, to take the initiative in explaining the need for a measure of selectivity in asking for reports and drawing the service into matrimonial work. We shall expect the new probation liaison committees introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 1982 to play a key role in this. The Home Office, usually in the shape of the probation inspectorate, will be ready to give support where it properly can. This is a sensitive issue. There can be no question of the Executive seeking to interfere with the judiciary. Nevertheless, it is right that the judiciary at all levels should be fully aware of the constraints which face the probation service and the consequences of imposing a burden on the service that is too great or inappropriate.

I apologise for taking your Lordships' time, but I believe that at the end of a long day noble Lords like answers to their questions, and I try to give them. I take note, with a fond smile, of the familiar suggestion the noble Lord, Lord Harris, made about the Lord Chancellor's Department. I promise that I will parade it, as I did before. I see its attractions. He, no doubt, sees the difficulties with which it bristles. I can say, on inter-agency co-operation, that the Home Office has given periodic encouragement to this by circulars and ministerial statements. There is a research project just starting in Avon to explore various ways in which co-operation between the different agencies of the criminal justice system can be improved.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, also asked about co-operation between the chief officers of police, the chief probation officers and the directors of social work. In some areas, all three regularly consult. In most, the chief probation officer meets the chief officer of police or his deputy, and, separately, with the director of social works.

I am constrained by the clock. I have something I rather wanted to say to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, on the question of probation students' pay. He brought it in at the end. The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, who has been a crusader in this, restrained himself from discussing it. I will merely say that I think that the decision to continue retrospectively to try to change a salary rate which is already ahead of that of the nurses—and considerably so in the older age brackets, with whom we are most concerned—is ill-advised; but even more so is pursuing this by means of interfering with the probation statistics.

Noble Lords may not agree with the exact terms of the statement of priorities, but all welcome the fact that there is a statement and that we can see where we are going. How did we know where we were; how could we see where we were going? Look in the statistics! It is a sad irony that the National Association of Probation Officers seems to be bent on drawing around itself, and around the service, the fog of ignorance which will prevent us going further along this enlightened road of evolving the role of the service in the light of experience. I hope that good sense will prevail and that they will bring that chapter to an end.

Briefly on training, since Lord Harris of Greenwich, Lord Mishcon and others, by inference, were concerned, I merely say that the probation inspectorate, in conjunction with the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, each year arrange a number of courses in management skills for chief officer grades. The department has made financial provision to increase that effort, including testing out external management courses. Secondly, the Standing Conference of Probation Tutors, in collaboration with the Association of Chief Probation Officers, is examining the contents of existing courses for probation students to see to what extent modification is needed so that the training meets the current and projected work of the service. The quality of the intake has been monitored over the past two years and I will send copies of the findings of that monitoring to the noble Lords, Lord Wells-Pestell, and Lord Mishcon.

May I conclude—I see the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, adopting an eager position which I think may mean that he is not going to say, "Before the noble Lord sits down," I am so used to it that I am quite surprised. The Government have made this clear. While they expect the probation service management to start to review and adjust its practices in the light of the statement, in consultation with and by agreement of other agencies of the criminal justice system, there is nothing final either in the statement or in any changes made at local level. The intention is that the probation service should play its part in the most effective manner possible in the criminal justice system as a whole.

The Government look forward in the coming months to receiving comments on the statement and suggestions for its further refinement from the probation service itself and from other agencies in the criminal justice system. We shall then be in a position to review the statement and possibly to modify it. But it was issued only a couple of weeks ago and, to answer the Question that the noble Lord has actually asked on the Order Paper, it really would not be proper for the Government to undertake this review at this very early stage.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before ten o'clock.