HC Deb 25 October 1954 vol 531 cc1719-28

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Kaberry]

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

For a short time tonight I wish to make some pleas on behalf of one of the least glamourised but most important of our services—our police forces. I do that not only on behalf of the loyal members of our police forces themselves, but because I believe that their welfare is essential to the welfare of the community as a whole. Statements made some time ago by the present Lord Chancellor, then the Home Secretary—

It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Kaberry.]

Mr. Gower

—and, indeed, by the Commissioner of Police as well as by several chief constables in different parts of the country, indicated that recruiting for the police forces is still causing some anxiety. It was natural that immediately after the war there was a considerable wastage of those men who had stayed on after retirement age during the period of that emergency. We understand that for two or three years after the end of the war the position was extremely grave.

I shall not attempt to minimise the efforts which have since been made to improve pay and conditions and stimulate recruitment generally. I believe that those efforts have not been entirely unsuccessful. I am told that since 1946 the yearly intake of recruits has varied between 3,400 and 5,900 men, a considerably larger figure than generally obtained before the war. On the other side of this balance sheet, however, I would ask my hon. Friend to note that in some parts of the country the annual wastage has equalled the intake or even exceeded it. I have learnt that serious deficiencies have been reported in the Metropolitan Police, in the cities of Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol, among others, and also in some of the counties.

I should like to cite some figures from my own part of the country. In Cardiff, in 1953, seven men and two women joined as new recruits, but in that year the loss amounted to 12 men and two women. In 1954, 16 men and three women were recruited, but 17 men resigned. At present, the total strength in Cardiff is eight below last year's authorised strength, but since then the authorised establishment has been increased by 20, making a potential total deficiency of 28.

Similarly, in the Glamorgan County Constabulary the figure is 40 below the former establishment, but the authorised establishment has now been increased by 50, so that there is a potential deficiency of 90. I heard recently of a police officer in the Barry Dock area, with very long service and within a few years of qualifying for his pension, who had retired into industrial employment at a far greater remuneration. Indeed, in the Barry Dock area of the Glamorgan County Police, there has been a loss of five in a period of only two months.

I recognise that many improvements have been made since the war to which my hon. Friend will doubtless refer. Since the publication of the recommendations of the Oaksey Committee there have been three increases in police pay—in 1948, 1951 and 1954. I admit, too, that there have been improvements in allowances, training facilities, facilities for police college training, better uniforms, and so on, but can my hon. Friend say that in the face of the figures I have mentioned these improvements are adequate? He may with some difficulty possibly sustain a case that recruitment is sufficient for what were pre-war needs, though I feel he would be in some difficulty in sustaining even that case, but in some parts of the country recruitment is not up even to those requirements, and nowhere does it equal the needs of today.

Before the war regular employment and the police pension were in themselves considerable inducements, but today, with full employment generally, I do not think that they are of anything like comparable significance. On the average a police constable joins now for a wage of approximately £9 per week in total, but I am told that contributions for superannuation, National Health Insurance, sports, welfare, and the widows' and orphans' fund generally reduce that figure to £8 or even £7 15s. a week. Many of the men, when they are trained, can go to factories in their own neighbourhoods and earn twice as much. I do not think that that is an exaggeration of the position as it is today.

If the basic financial rewards are inadequate to induce the right type of man to come forward in sufficient numbers I would ask my hon. Friend, can we as a country afford not to pay more? In parts of Canada, I am told, the ordinary "beat" constable, as he is termed there, gets 260 dollars, or about £87, a month. That is more than a M.P. gets in this country. But, seriously, that shows what importance is attached in some parts of Canada to the maintenance of an adequate strength for the police force.

Will my hon. Friend also look at the comparatively small differential there is between new entrants and men who have had a considerable length of service and have to take positions of responsibility? I believe that the difference between the pay of a newly joining constable and the pay of a fully established inspector is less than £5 a week. I would ask my hon. Friend whether he thinks that that is enough.

Does my hon. Friend think that the conditions of work are in all cases such as to attract the best entrants? Does he not think they involve disproportionately large sacrifices in some cases? I have discovered at least two instances of young married constables who have been re- quired to do night work two weeks out of three for considerable periods, and, of course, without extra payment for the discomfort of doing so. I ask my hon. Friend to look into that rather closely.

I would also ask him to consider the unpopularity of a succession of week-end duties. I appreciate that with many forces below strength the additional frequency of these week-end duties may have been essential, but surely they are in themselves a disincentive to recruitment when we require people to come forward. I know of cases in which police officers have been required for duty for a succession of week-ends, and working on both the Saturday and the Sunday, and that happens today when we know that people in other occupations find week-end work most disagreeable.

Does my hon. Friend really believe that the 48-hour week is not too much in some circumstances? I would not be dogmatic about this. I appreciate that the conditions in one part of the country may be different from those in another, and that conditions in a village are different from those in a town, but does my hon. Friend think that for police officers in arduous or dangerous circumstances the 48-hour week can be sustained?

There are many other matters that, had I the time, I would touch on and even elaborate, and even in the few minutes I have I must refer to one or two. I am told that conditions in the Fire Service, which is a newer service, are in some ways better than they are in the police forces. For example, while police officers have to pay towards their dental treatment, and, of course, contribute to National Health Insurance, I understand that members of the Fire Service still get dental treatment freely. Another grievance may lie in the necessity of averaging three years' salary or pay, for the purposes of assessing pensions. I am open to correction, but those are my instructions. I am told that this is a comparatively recent innovation and, I believe, an unpopular one.

Then there is the question of unemployment benefit. A police officer who retires before reaching his age limit is liable to lose the right to unemployment benefit. The reason which is usually given is that he has left his employment voluntarily but, on the other hand, I believe that members of the Regular Armed Forces are treated on a completely different basis. I should like my hon. Friend to look into this.

To summarise, I want to be assured that the Home Office is alive to this problem. I have already said that I appreciate the attempts that have been made to deal with it, but it is a continuing problem and one that deserves new attention today.

10.11 p.m.

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

I am glad of this opportunity to refer to one or two other matters in relation to recruitment to the police forces. We are in a very serious situation in Liverpool, where we are over 400 below establishment. We are working in a vicious circle. Unless we can reduce the hours of work, unless we can produce some amenities—unless, incidentally, we can produce houses for the police officers to live in—we cannot do anything to get men of the right type to join the police.

First, I want to say that if we are to recruit young men to the police forces. we must provide them with suitable housing accommodation. A man who comes into a police force must be of the very highest integrity. There were times when it was only beef and brawn that mattered; it is intelligence that matters very much these days. The men want to live to a decent standard. They want to live with their wives and to have the opportunity of looking after their children. If they are recruited in Liverpool and live somewhere else, there is a separation if we are not able to provide them with decent housing accommodation.

Only recently, when Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary was in Liverpool, that was one of the points that was put to him and he said that it was one of the things that was essential for an industrial area police force to provide. The Home Office ought to look at this situation and consider whether it can give any further assistance to the industrial areas to provide finance on a bigger scale to supply housing accommodation. In Liverpool, we have a list of well over 100 young officers in the police force who are desperately waiting for housing accommodation. Although we are doing as much as we possibly can with the finance at our disposal, the Home Office might well look at this problem and consider whether anything further can be done.

The other matter might sound silly, but it is one that very much affects the recruitment of police officers: that is, the fact that a policeman, wherever he lives, must come on duty and go off duty in uniform. If he has a journey of an hour or an hour and a half away from the division to which he is posted, he cannot meet his wife or relations in town and go to a theatre. He must go home and change his uniform, and then come back again. This might sound a silly point but the men themselves are very concerned about it, because in some cases it adds about three hours to their duty time.

I think it essential that the Home Office should have a look at this matter in the industrial areas where men have to live quite a distance away, and see whether some advice can be given to the local authority police committees to supply proper cupboard accommodation for the men so that they can change at the station before going off duty. It may seem a simple matter, but I think it is important because it is the sort of amenity which would add to the attractions of the job and help us to secure additional recruits.

10.15 p.m

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) for having raised this subject, and also to the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) for having raised important points in this connection. There is a serious shortage of men in the police force. That has meant throwing a heavy burden on those who are in the service, and I am sure the House would wish me to begin by paying a tribute to the loyal and efficient way in which those who are in the service have discharged their duty.

May I say a word about the manpower of the police service. It is convenient at the start to put this shortage which exists into its proper perspective. There are serious shortages but these should not obscure the real measure of success that we have achieved in some directions. There are already between 2,000 and 3,000 more police officers serving now than there were before the war. There has also been an increase in the clerical and ancilliary staffs, and that increase has released further officers for police duties proper.

Since 1946 there has been a net increase of over 16,000 men, and, as my hon. Friend has said, there has been an annual intake since the war varying between 3,400 and 5,900 men. That compares with a pre-war average of 3,000. The truth of the matter is, of course, the present shortage can be laid at the door of increased responsibilities which have been put upon the police. Our strength is below establishment, and let me say straight away that establishment in some cases is certainly not in excess of what we should like to see.

There are 8,000 recruits needed for the police at the present time. That represents a deficiency of about 11 per cent., but, as the hon. Lady has said, that deficiency is not evenly spread. It occurs mainly in the large industrial towns—Liverpool is a case in point—and also in the Metropolitan area.

May I say a word about the terms of service, which, of course, are of great importance in this connection. I should like to begin by referring to the financial terms of service. Starting pay is at the rate of £445 a year, which rises in the case of a man who remains a constable to £550, that, of course, being less 5 per cent. pensions contribution. In London there is an extra £20 a year. My hon. Friend asked about the differentials between the constable's and the inspector's rates. The inspector begins with a minimum of £700, so that the differential, as he said, is less than £5 a week. There is a claim on the part of the inspectors and chief inspectors now before the Police Council. That being so, it would not be proper for me to say anything further on that subject.

A police officer is eligible for a pension at the rate of half-pay, after 25 years' service and two-thirds pay after 30 years' service. My hon. Friend raised the question of unemployment benefit. I shall have that matter looked into and will write to him. The question of police pensions is constantly under review, and the House will remember that a number of orders in this connection have been made in the last few years. The principle of averaging for the last three years of service was a recommendation of the Oaksey Committee and was put forward by that Committee as a concomitant of pay increases. Taking the two together, I think my hon. Friend will agree that that was an improvement.

A police officer is entitled to a house or quarters or to a tax-free rent allowance. If I had time I would deal in more detail with the question of housing which, I agree with the hon. Lady, is important. The officer either receives uniform or an allowance in lieu if his service involves the wearing of plain clothes. The hon. Lady has put forward a suggestion which I should like to consider. I am not certain how practical it is, but it is a helpful suggestion and, after considering it, I will communicate with her. A police officer also receives a boot allowance.

My hon. Friend asked about contributions for National Health Service benefits. The position is that the police force was entitled to a free health service before the time of the National Health Service. That entitlement became lost as a result of the passage of the series of National Health Service Acts. The position is being considered by the Government and the Police Council, and the old free entitlement will be restored in the very near future. A decision has already been provisionally reached subject to final formal steps being taken. Each policeman is entitled to 18 working days leave, plus the public holidays.

These are substantial material advantages, but the service needs keen men. It is worth mentioning that the highest posts in the service are open to the lowest entrants. The Police College was established in 1948 particularly with that object in view and designed to ensure that the service shall supply its own leaders. At present there is a 48 hour week with an 8 hour day, out of which comes the three-quarters of an hour meal break. If overtime has to be worked it is compensated by time off or a payment in lieu and time off and payment at the rate of one hour for every three-quarters of an hour overtime. I would mention here that a claim for a 40-hour week is now before the Police Council. Clearly, such a claim involves very wide operational and financial im- plications. That I think I can tell the House, but as the matter is before the Police Council, again it is not one which it would be proper for me now to discuss.

Night duty and shift work are the bugbears of the police service. They are inherent in the nature of the work, involving as it does the prevention of crime and the protection of property, which has to be protected for 24 hours of the day and seven days of the week. That responsibility falls primarily on the man on the beat. The normal method of manning the beats has been to have three shifts of eight hours, each roughly of the same size, with the individual officers turning over their shifts at intervals.

A number of forces have adopted a system of staggered shifts, that is to say, an analysis has been made of the need for men on duty at different times of the day. The 24 hours has been divided into five, six or seven overlapping shifts, and in that way it has been possible to reduce the incidence of police duty at those times of the day when the need is least: that is particularly in the small hours of the morning. This system has been welcomed in those places where it has been operated, particularly by the wives of the policemen.

I should like to mention also that experiments in team policing are going forward, that is to say where a system of group responsibility instead of individual responsibility has been introduced. I mention it to show that we are very much alive to the type of considerations mentioned by my hon. Friend and that we are doing our best to see how the difficulties can be avoided.

The hon. Lady referred to police housing. The Oaksey Committee examined this question exhaustively. In 1949 there were 18,000 houses owned or rented by the police authorities, of which no less than 15,000 were in the counties, and a further 17,500 were needed. Since 1949 the police authorities have built more than 10,500 houses. They now have 12,000 post-war houses. The present completion rate is 2,500 a year and a further 700 dwellings are to be purchased or leased. At the present time, as a result, 44 police authorities have already met their urgent requirements; a further 54 will have met their urgent requirements in the next 12 months, and there will be 30 still unsatisfied at the end of that time. In the main, those 30 are in the areas where the housing position is least good. I think it right to acknowledge the contribution made by the housing authorities to that welcome progress.

In the Metropolitan Police District in 1949 there were barely 1,500 dwellings for married officers. An objective of 4,000 was set in that year, and such good progress has been made that the objective has now been increased to 5,000. There are 3,600 houses at present available, and there are 1,350 which are either under construction or in actual planning. It is obvious that this shortage means that a number of officers are waiting, but every possible effort will be made to accommodate them as soon as possible.

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'Clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order

Adjourned at Half-past Ten o'Clock.