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Probation Officers (Superannuation) Bill

Volume 438: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1947

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Order for Second Reading read.

10.9 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a small, long overdue Measure which deals with the position of certain very important officers for whom my Department has some overseeing responsibility. They were first provided with superannuation under the Criminal Justice Act, 1925. At that time, local government superannuation was permissive. Had it been compulsory then, I think the prob- ability is that they would have been brought into the local government superannuation service. A special scheme was made for probation officers in 1926, under the powers conferred on the Secretary of State by the Criminal Justice Act, 1925, but no permission was given in that Measure enabling the Secretary of State, if he desired, to vary the scheme and to bring it into line with developments that might take place in other branches of the service.

There are now four main defects in particular which urgently require remedying, and I hope that this Bill will enable all four of them to be dealt with. First, the contributions paid by serving probation officers under the present scheme are fixed according to the age at entry, and the pensions are at the rate of £6 for each completed year of service for a man, and £4 for a woman. Of course, most superannuation schemes relate the pension to the salary received at the end of the pensioner's service; normally, in local government it is related to the average salary received during the last five years of service. This fixing of a sum of money for each completed year of service means that the pension has no relationship to the salary that has been paid; and with the rise in salaries in recent years it means, of course, that the pension, in relation to the salary, has become less each year. For instance, when these pensions were fixed in 1926 the maximum retiring salaries were £350 for a man and £250 for a woman. Now, the ordinary salary at retirement for a man is £570 instead of £350, and £460 for a woman as against £250. There are 91 senior officers with additional allowances of £50 a year and 41 principal and deputy principal officers with maximum salaries ranging from £600 to £1,155. It is clearly right that the pension scheme for probation officers, as for all other similar persons, should have relationship to the salary that is paid and should not be on the fixed basis as it is at present.

The second defect which we desire to remedy is that the existing scheme is limited to officers under the age of 40 on full-time employment. Accordingly, an officer appointed to do part-time work, who proves a success and is then taken on as a full-time officer, is not entitled to a pension if he happens to be taken on after 40 years of age. We desire to remedy that. The third defect is that the existing scheme applies only to full time officers. There are 280 officers, or thereabouts, who are part-time, and probably half of them are mainly dependent for their livelihood upon their salary as probation officers. I am glad to say that there are in the country a number of people who have some other means, and who desire to play the part of the good citizen by undertaking this work, being suited for it by temperament and experience. They come on in a part-time capacity. We desire that these people—where the work is substantial and there is dependence upon salary and expectation of permanent appointment—should also be eligible to come within the terms of the scheme.

Lastly, there is the case of the clerks who are appointed to assist probation officers in the performance of their duties. Since the superannuation schemes were founded certain anomalies have arisen. Some local authorities appoint a clerk to their services, and then second the man or woman to the probation service, retaining him in their own superannuation scheme for pension purposes. It all depends how this is arranged locally whether or not a clerk to a probation officer is eligible for a pension.

The effect of the Bill, in regard to all these four points, is to empower the Secretary of State, by order, to apply to probation officers and their clerks the provisions of the Local Government Superannuation Act, 1937, or the local Act schemes which come within the meaning of that Act. The provisions of Clause I, which looks rather complex, have been designed to ensure that the Secretary of State has all the necessary powers to apply the provisions of existing local government schemes to persons employed, some for a good many years past, under terms and conditions of service different in some respects to those appertaining in the local government services. Under this Bill, probation officers will be put as nearly as possible in the position of people already in local government superannuation schemes. This will involve giving some pension rights in respect of back service. The Government actuary will determine the sums to be paid to the local government funds to meet this liability, and it will probably amount to £250,000. It is expected that about £165,000 of that sum will be met from the existing funds when they are wound up. The balance of £85,000 will be borne in equal shares by the Exchequer and the local authorities.

This Bill is merely an enabling Bill. An Order made under it is required, by Clause 3 (3), to be laid before Parliament, and before making an Order the Secretary of State is required, by Subsection (1), to notify the associations of local authorities who may be affected, and take their representations into consideration. It is proposed to proceed with these consultations as soon as this Bill becomes law, with a view to agreeing to the terms of an Order to come into force early next year. The Bill is designed to give to probation officers, who by their skill in the services of the courts do much to reduce delinquency and domestic disharmony, pension rights similar to those in comparable callings. I am sure that there will be general agreement that this is a much needed and long-delayed Measure, to treat fairly and comparably with their colleagues in public service these men and women who do so much to help in the administration of justice by putting young people back on the straight path, and in helping to preserve the social fabric of our country.

10.20 p.m.

In striking contrast to almost every Bill introduced by this Government, this Bill is, in our view, a good one, and I join wholeheartedly in the tribute which the Home Secretary has paid to the probation officers and the probation system. There has been, in this century, no more striking development than that of the probation service; it has, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, rendered immense service to the country, saving tens of thousands of people from a life of crime. This Bill brings the provisions for the superannuation of probation officers into line with modern ideas and postwar requirements. We are satisfied that it will cost the country very little, and that it will contribute towards a happy and contented probation service. We shall, therefore, do all we can to assist the right hon. Gentleman in passing this Bill into law.

10.21 p.m.

I would like to add a few words to what has already been said about the probation service, and to say that the country will be extremely grateful to my right hon. friend for having introduced a Measure which will, to some extent, assist probation officers, and make the probation service a little more attractive financially, than it has been in the past. It is rather disgraceful that this very important service, which has done so much to assist the community generally and those who have had the misfortune to appear before the courts for offences under the Probation of Offenders Act, and so on, has not been made more financially attractive than it is at present.

My right hon. Friend has said that there are people who are publicly minded and anxious to help, and who are prepared to undertake this work, although the remuneration they receive for it is not sufficient to cover their needs, and they have to draw on their private resources to enable them to live a proper and adequate life. I hope that this Bill is only the preliminary to a proper examination of the salaries paid to the men and women of the probation service who do such valuable work, and that some method will be found whereby the very best people will be attracted into that service, so that its work can be even further extended. I know from experience of probation officers that many find it hard to make both ends meet. They ought not to be placed in such a position, because they work very much harder than most public officials. With them, there is no question of time or hours or, in many cases, leisure. They are at their work day and night. The step which has been taken on this occasion will prove not only useful to them, but also of great advantage to the whole community.

10.24 p.m.

I would like to point out that I have this interest in probation officers: during the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill in 1938, I spoke for those officers, and I would now like to ask two questions. The Government have indicated their intention to introduce another Criminal Justice Bill to carry out the provisions of the Measure which fell to the ground when war broke out. I hope that promise will be implemented. If that is done, a greater burden will be thrown on the probation service, in many respects, and that causes me to make this reflection: that it is high time that this service was not regarded mainly as an opportunity for people to exercise philanthropy. I think that the right hon. Gentleman said that the maximum salary for probation officers was about £500.

I said that was for the ordinary probation officer, but I mentioned that there were certain people in the service who received a salary as high as £1,155.

I think that will be agreed that that is far too low, bearing in mind the value of the services rendered. The only reason for my rising was to put in a word for the probation service, and to say that, in my opinion and in the opinion of everyone who has to do with this kind of work, these officers render an invaluable service, and it is high time that their services were placed on a proper economic footing. I remember that during the passage of that Bill through Committee I was told that there was a probation officer with more than 20 years service whose salary was £100 a year. I think that this is an opportunity for someone in this House to say that the probation officers are not given the status or the treatment they deserve.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.—[ Mr. Michael Stewart.]