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Probation Officers: Recruitment and Training

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): We are today publishing a consultation document setting out proposals for wide-ranging changes to the present arrangements. Copies of the document and of the report of the departmental scrutiny carried out last year, of which our proposals take account, are being sent to a wide range of interested bodies and are being placed in the Library.

We propose to sweep away the barriers to the recruitment as probation officers of people who have relevant skills and experience to offer but who lack the social work diploma qualification which is at present required by law. Under the proposals set out in the consultation document, probation committees will be able to recruit from a much wider range of sources; and

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the initial training prospective probation officers undertake to equip them with the competence to practise will be made more flexible to take account of mature candidates' previous work. On this basis we are proposing to terminate the present scheme under which the Home Office sponsors students on selected social work courses after students joining this autumn have qualified; and to fund area probation services on the basis that they will meet their own training requirements. This change will be arranged so that it is not to the detriment of those committed to existing courses.

The scrutiny report highlights strengths as well as weaknesses in the present arrangements; and we are determined that standards of training and recruitment should not be compromised. On the contrary we believe that there is scope for more rigorous assessment of individuals' training needs and competence to practise to be introduced. The social work dimension of probation officers' responsibilities will not be ignored in these arrangements and it is not our intention to discourage applications from suitable candidates with social work qualifications. But the work of the probation officers and social workers is different, so there is no good reason for a common training qualification. Now that core competences for probation officers have been published, and are to be used as the basis for performance appraisal, training arrangements should be specifically geared towards those competences. Our proposals envisage greater ownership of training and the maintenance of standards by the probation service itself.

We shall over the next three months welcome comments on these proposals, which are intended to ensure that the probation service has a firm long-term foundation for the provision of high quality services to the courts and to the community.

Victim Support

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What public funds are provided for Victim Support and what other help is being provided for victims of crime.

Baroness Blatch: The Government's funding of Victim Support has grown at a rate unprecedented for a voluntary organisation. Grant in the coming financial year will amount to nearly £11 million, an increase of 8 per cent. over the current year's figure. The record of our funding of Victim Support is as follows:

Year Grant Year on year increase Percentage increase
£ Percentage
1979–80 5,000 n/a n/a
1980–81 10,000 5,000 100
1981–82 18,000 8,000 80
1982–83 16,000 -2,000 -11
1983–84 38,000 22,000 138
1984–85 62,000 24,000 63
1985–86 126,000 64,000 103
1986–87 286,000 160,000 127
1987–88 1,763,000 1,477,000 516
1988–89 2,740,000 977,000 55
1989–90 3,910,000 1,170,000 43
1990–91 4,735,000 825,000 21
1991–92 5,670,000 935,000 20
1992–93 7,260,000 1,590,000 28
1993–94 8,375,000 1,115,000 15
1994–95 10,016,000 1,641,000 20
1995–96 10,817,000 801,000 8

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The additional funding given in 1994–95 and 1995–96 will enable Victim Support to complete the programme of establishing witness support services in all 78 Crown Court centres by the end of 1995, and to develop further the work of their 365 local schemes and branches which provide emotional support and practical help to over 1 million victims of crime a year throughout England and Wales.

We published the Victim's Charter five years ago today, the first charter to be published. Most of the 50 standards in the Charter have been, or are well on the way to being, met. This has done a great deal to improve the way victims are treated by the criminal justice system. And we will build on this by publishing later this year a statement of service standards for victims of crime. This will be a charter-style document telling victims more clearly what they can expect of the criminal justice system and what they can do if they do not get it.

The Government have taken a range of other measures to help victims of crime. These include giving them better information about progress in their case, and ensuring that their views are taken more into account at all stages of the criminal justice process. A good example of this was the establishment in December of a Victim's Helpline so that any victim concerned about an inmate's possible temporary release can tell the prison authorities. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 contained a number of measures designed to help victims and witnesses, including the abolition of committal proceedings and the creation of a new offence of witness intimidation. These, and many other measures, are firm evidence of the Government's concern for victims of crime and their continuing desire to improve services for them.

Bathing Water Improvements: Cost Study

Lord Gainford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    If the Department of the Environment's study into the costs of implementing the European Commission's proposed revision of the Bathing Water Directive has been completed.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): The consultant's cost study commissioned by the department has now been completed. It shows the estimated costs of meeting

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the standards in the Commission's proposed revision of the Bathing Water Directive and a number of other possible outcomes of the forthcoming negotiations. Any such expenditure would be in addition to the estimated costs of implementing the existing Bathing Water and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directives.

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Discussion of the Commission's proposal in the Community is still at the initial stages and the UK's cost study should help to inform future negotiations.

Copies of the cost study will be placed in the House Libraries.

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