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Clause 7—(Power To Recognise And Subsidise Societies For Care Of Youthful Offenders On Probation, Etc)

Volume 65: debated on Monday 20 July 1914

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(1) If a society is formed having as its object or amongst its objects the care and control of persons under the age of twenty-one whilst on probation under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1907, or of persons whilst placed out on licence from a reformatory or industrial school or Borstal institution, or under supervision after the determination of the period of their detention in such a school or institution, or under supervision in pursuance of this Act, the society may apply to the Secretary of State for recognition, and the Secretary of State, if he approves of the constitution of the society and is satisfied as to the means adopted by the society for securing such objects as aforesaid, may grant his recognition to the society.

(2) Where a probation order is made by a Court of Summary Jurisdiction in respect of a person who appears to the Court to be under the age of twenty-one, the Court may appoint any officer provided by a recognised society to act as probation officer in the case.

(3) Where a probation officer provided by a recognised society has been appointed to act in any case and it is subsequently found by the society expedient that some other officer provided by the society should be substituted for the officer originally appointed, the society may, subject to the approval of the Court, appoint such other officer to act, and thereupon the probation order shall have effect as if such substituted officer had originally been appointed to act as probation officer.

(4) There may be paid to a recognised society out of moneys provided by Parliament towards the expenses incurred by the society such sums on such conditions as the Secretary of State, with the approval of the Treasury may recommend.

I beg to move to leave out this Clause.

Under 7 of Edward VII. probation officers were for the first time appointed by the Court direct to look after persons allowed out on probation. I do not think I need trouble the House with the details of their work. They were, in fact, to take up the work of the Court Missionaries under a previous Act of 1007. I want to speak on behalf of the Church of England Temperance Society whose Police Court missionary work is well known to every Member of this House. Prior to 1907 there were no probation officers at all, but in every Police Court the Police Court missionary appointed by the Church of England Temperance Society did the work unofficially which the probation officers now do officially. He was the one man in Court unconnected with the administration of justice to whom the prisoner could pour out his grievances and explain his own point of view. The magistrate in nearly all cases, or in many cases, used the missionary in order to do the multifarious kind of work which the Court and the police could not do. In cases of separation of husband and wife sometimes arrangements were made by him. Tools were got out of pawn, money was collected in order to pay fines, children were got into homes, and other kinds of work which everyone knows could not be done by the police was done by the missionary of the Church of England Temperance Society. Under the Probation Act of 1907 I had the honour of being on the committee of the Church of England Temperance Society, and as chairman of the committee for two dioceses I have personally come into very close contact with those missionaries and the work they do, and it is for the maintenance of their position that I am now appealing to the Home Secretary.

Under the Act of 1907, when it came to the question of who should be appointed as probation officers, the magistrates, who knew the missionary and the work he did, in nearly all cases said we will appoint the agents of the Mission of the Church of England Temperance Society as probation officers under the Court. There are to-day 153 missionaries of the Church of England Temperance Society who were probation officers in 1907–133 men and twenty women. And there are 153 men in England and Wales, and they visit regularly 415 different Police Courts. I think I am right in saying in the county of Kent, which probably I know better than the other counties, every single Police Court in the whole of that county borough and county is visited regularly by one of those attached to the Church of England Temperance Society. I will not give more statistics than I can, but I want to tell the number of cases placed in the hands of these probation officers during last year. I have got the total number. In my own diocese of Canterbury and Rochester 516 cases have been definitely handed over to the missionaries by the magistrates. In London 1,294 cases have been so handed over, in Manchester 266, and in St. Alban's 331. I have got altogether the return from sixteen different dioceses, and I find that 3,830 cases in these dioceses were last year handed over by the magistrates to these missionaries in order that they might minister to them in a way that the police and the magistrates could not possibly do. I do not know whether it is necessary to read to the House the encomiums passed on the work of the Police Court missionary time and again by magistrates both in London and the country. I should like to refer to two. Everyone who has taken up the report of the Church of England Temperance Society in various dioceses, which is published year by year, will see reported remarks of the local magistrates saying that they could not get on with their work without the aid of the Police Court missionaries. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"] Then I will only read two cases, quite recent ones. One is from Lancashire by Mr. Philip Birley, chairman of the Office Committee of the Manchester City Justices. He says:—
"In my position on the Office Committee of the Manchester City Justices, I have come into close contact with the work of the C.E.T.S. Police Court Mission. That is particularly so in connection with their probation officer, and it has been my duty to examine his work closely for the last eighteen months, I wish to say that I am certain that great good is done in the majority of the probationers by the work of the officers, particularly in his success in finding employment for those under his charge. This has been largely helped by the fact that the officer is also a servant of the society, and he has thus many ways of helping his cases during the period of probation. It will, I am sure, be a great gain to the probation work if this society is one of those approved by the new Act."
The reason I am dealing with this point is that there is grave doubt as to the position which the Home Secretary contemplates under Clause 7 of this Bill, and I am bound to confess that the Church of England Society do not think it satisfactory. I desire to quote one other reference from Sir John Dickinson, who is the chief magistrate in London. In a speech a short time ago, at the Southwark Chapter House, he declared that
"Police Court missionaries, male and female, were of the greatest possible assistance to the magistrates, and in no sense was this more true than in regard to the Probation of Offenders Act. In this matter, the Police Court missionaries has been of the utmost assistance to the magistrates; indeed, but for their co-operation and valuable reports in regard to offenders on probation it would have been an impossibility for the Act to have been so successfully administered."
What is the position? I have told shortly the House what has been done in reference to this Court work. Under the provisions of this Bill the Home Secretary is going to have power to take away that work which the probationary officers of the Church of England Temperance Society are doing. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I do not want to take up the time of the House, and if the right hon. Gentleman will get up and say I am wrong I will not continue.

As the hon. Gentleman challenges me, I may say to him that I propose to accept his first two Amendments.

And as the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept the first two Amendments on the Paper, if the House will allow me I will withdraw the Motion to omit the Clause.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "formed" ["if a society is formed having as its object"], to insert the words "or as already in existence."

The difficulty which the Church of England Society found was that if the Home Secretary was going to form a new-society that would take over the formation of probation officers and that all the work would be given to the new society. In justice to myself I should tell the House that we had a letter from one of the Home Secretary's officials, which we considered of a dangerous character in regard to the work that the society has been doing so-long. However, if the Home Secretary will say to the House that the words "or is already in existence" will be included, and the very great work which the Church of England Temperance Society are doing so long will be preserved, we will be satisfied.

I think it is very unfair to the Committee that the Church of England Temperance Society did not bring this matter forward during the Committee stage. Surely that was the time to have Brought it forward, and not at this period of the Session when we want to get this Bill through. I sat through all the sittings of the Committee, which were very prolonged, and we had long discussions, and I think it is rather unfair to come down to the House with a point of this sort, which the society knew all about long ago. I hope hon. Members will not find it necessary to take up a lot of time on points of this kind.

Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Further Amendment made: After the word "Act" ["In pursuance of this Act"], insert the words "or some one or more of such objects."—[ Mr. Joynson-Hicks.]

I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), to leave out the word "officer" ["any officer provided by a recognised society"], and to insert instead thereof the word "person." I hope the Home Secretary will not insist upon the retention of the word "officer." There is a good deal of voluntary work done in these cases, and if the powers of the magistrates are limited to officers of a recognised society, I think the usefulness of this provision will be very much restricted. Frequently the officers of these societies are fully occupied and have not sufficient leisure to undertake the duties of a probation officer. Again, their work may not be quite of that kindly nature which a voluntary worker might give to it. I hope the Home Secretary will allow an opening for the voluntary worker in this connection.

I am quite in sympathy with the object of my hon. Friend, but I am not so sure that the word which he has proposed to substitute will have the effect he desires.

The Clause reads at present, "the Court may appoint any officer provided by a recognised society," so that it must be an officer of some recognised society.

That does not in any way interfere with the discretion of the Court to appoint a probation officer, and it does not interfere with the powers of the magistrate. Our intention is, by giving the society financial assistance, to enable it to provide persons who might be appointed as probation officers in every town. It would not be of any use, however willing the magistrates might be to appoint them, if they were not on the list, and we wish to have them available in order that societies supplying officers of that kind may receive a State subsidy. The Court may appoint anybody, and the Clause does not withdraw any existing power which the Court has got.

Do I understand that a person who is not really an employed officer of a society, but who is nominated by a society, may be appointed by the Court?

Yes, or anybody else. The Court has to be satisfied as to the status and character of the probation officer. A society can recommend suitable persons, and the discretion of the magistrates is left unfettered.

I have listened to the special pleading rather carefully, and I feel certain that if this Amendment were adopted there would be a little more freedom on the part of the Court. It is no answer to the argument in favour of freedom of choice to say that they have fairly good freedom of choice in electing probation officers. A suitable person might turn up in the Court eminently suitable for appointment, but unless they were on the staff, and unless they had previously been put on the list and selected, they could not be appointed in a particular case. I think this Amendment can do no harm, and the magistrate would have an additional choice.

I think there is a risk of the word "officer" being read in too narrow a sense. I am rather afraid that some magistrate would think he only had the power to appoint a person who is an officer. The changing of the word "officer" to "person" may do good and cannot do harm, because the discretion of the Court remains, and we can assume that the Court will not appoint an improper person. This Amendment would give a little more flexibility to the Clause, and I hope the Home Secretary will accept it.

The word "officer" in this Clause is a term that may be construed as it is at present construed in the case of the Probationer Offenders Act. In that case it is strictly construed as a person who is on a list for a given Petty Sessional Division. The flexibility could be met and the area of selection widened if, instead of using the word "officer," the Clause read, "The Court may appoint any person provided by a recognised society to act as probationer officer in the case." I know that would not meet all the views which have been expressed, but it would make certain that the person provided would be a person of integrity and known to some recognised society. The word "officer," as it now stands, is too strict and should not remain.

I have no particular objection to this word, and I will accept the substitution of the word "person" for "officer" now, on the undertaking that I must be given an opportunity for reconsideration of this point, in case I find that it restricts the complete freedom of choice of the magistrate.

Question, "That the word 'person' be there inserted in the Bill," put, and agreed to.

I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (2), to insert the words "Provided that in the case of a probation order made in respect of a female the probation officer so appointed must also be a female."

This Amendment would have a much wider effect than is generally imagined, and I think it would be most undesirable to put a provision of this sort in the Bill.

I hope my hon. Friend will not press this Amendment, because it is very often very difficult to get a female probation officer.

I think this Amendment contains a principle which ought to be extended. There are reasons why in certain cases the probation officer should be a female. This is a question of a far reaching character, and I believe this Amendment is in line with certain other reforms in which the House has recently agreed to extending the use of women in various directions in work of this kind. Though I think it is perhaps too wide a proposal to insist upon a woman being appointed in all cases, I think some modified form of this Amendment might be accepted.

I think the figures I gave just now show the impossibility of carrying out an Amendment of this sort. I pointed out that out of 133 probation officers under the Church of England Temperance Society only twenty of them are women.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.