HC Deb 06 February 1968 vol 758 cc358-68

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

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

As a consultant in an honorary capacity to the Port of London Authority Police Federation, I wish to draw attention to the refusal of the Government to approve the back dating of pay increases to the Port of London Authority Police to bring them into line with the Metropolitan Police, and perhaps I may explain a little more fully the present position in the matter.

The Port of London Authority Police are paid and administered by the Port of London Authority under statutory authority. Their strength is approximately 580, which include both uniformed police and a C.I.D. They have vans, cars, motor cycles, wireless and all the equipment ordinarily associated with an efficient police force. They have the same standard of training as the Metropolitan Police and theirs is a police force in every sense of the word. It is well known that they carry warrant cards which describe them as police. Certainly they are well known to the criminals whom they apprehend and prosecute, and they are known to the judiciary who have to try the cases which they bring before them.

They have many duties to perform, apart from that of apprehending criminals. They protect the property of the Port of London Authority Docks, and those are large enough. They have to maintain order and to perform other duties which are carried out by the police. They have a very high detection rate of the crimes and other matters which occur in and around the London Docks. They carry out their duties in the Port of London Authority docks and in the neighbourhood of those docks.

For the last quarter of a century, they have enjoyed the same terms and conditions of service, including hours of work and pay, as those enjoyed by the Metropolitan Police. That has been clearly understood by members of the force and by the Port of London Authority. One of the inducements for obtaining people to serve in the force is that they will enjoy those same conditions. Therefore, when it became known in about 1966 that the Metropolitan Police were seeking and likely to obtain pay increases, an application was naturally made for pay increases by the Port of London Authority Police Force.

I will not trouble the House with details of those negotiations. They were conducted in a perfectly friendly manner, as negotiations with the Port of London authority have always been, because the relationship between the force and its employing body have always been upon the friendliest basis. At the end of the negotiations, the Port of London Authority agreed to the same terms of increase as the Metropolitan Police had been promised. However, because these were the days of prices and incomes standstill, the words subject to the approval of the Minister of Labour had to be inserted in the agreement.

In the meantime, discussions with the Metropolitan Police had been continuing and, on 22nd November, 1966, the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs said: The Government consider that the police, whose next pay review was originally due to take effect from September, 1966, are in a special position because of their importance in combating crime. My right hon. Friends the Home and Scottish Secretaries are, therefore, prepared to discuss in the Police Council an increase payable in July, 1967, [...]etrospective to March, 1967."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 1151.] That is in fact what happened. The Metropolitan Police received a pay increase from July, 1967, retrospective to March, 1967. To the astonishment of all concerned, when the Port of London Authority, the body which has to pay the increase, not the Government, filed what might be thought to be a formal application to the Minister of Labour for sanction for this increase which had been agreed between itself and the Port of London Authority Police Federation, it was refused. The Port of London Authority then said to the Port of London Authority Police Federation, "We are very sorry. We should be pleased to pay you —the amount involved is not large—but the Government have said no".

The Port of London Authority Police Federation then took up the matter with the Minister of Labour, but again met with a refusal. A most unfortunately worded letter was sent to the Port of London Authority Police Federation, because it pointed out that the Metropolitan Police were in a special position by reason of their duties in combating crime. Although the good lady who wrote that letter was probably copying the words of the Secretary of State in the House, it did not improve the feelings of the Port of London Authority Police Federation, which was already angry at the refusal it had met, to have the suggestion made that the Metropolitan Police had to combat crime and it did not. I would point out that the Port of London Authority Police have a very heavy duty in combating crime and they looked upon the answer that they got from the Ministry as one which, to put it mildly, added fuel to the fire. Not only did it cause bitter resentment because they had lost the pay increase for four months—I will not refer to the weekly figures concerned because, although from the wrong date, they have received the proper increases—but, what is much more important, the principle which has been established and maintained for 25 years has been ruthlessly broken by the Government. That affects both the morale of, and the recruiting for, this very important police force.

It must cause a great deal of uncertainty amongst the members of that force, many of whom have served for many years, in other matters, particularly at a time when the Port of London Authority is being abolished and a nationalised board is coming in. I would be hopelessly out of order if I were to refer to the merits and demerits of that. But if this Government can do that upon an important matter like pay and conditions, what will they do when the nationalised board takes over from the Port of London Authority with which we have dealt on such friendly terms for so many years?

As a result of this complete rebuff from the Minister of Labour the Port of London Authority Police Federation has approached me and I wrote to the Minister, but I received a refusal. I then saw the Parliamentary Secretary on 10th November last year. I put forward the reasons which seemed to me conclusive —I have referred to some; by reason of tine I will not refer to others—for reversing the decision which had been arrived at. I hoped that when I had the opportunity of pointing it out to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who would have consulted the Minister of Labour, he would see the force of this argument. I am grateful to him, and thank him, for listening courteously to me on that occasion, but I cannot thank hint for the blunt refusal which I received to iv request, supported as it was by the many patently unanswerable matters which I raised with him. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reverse the decision which was made originally by his Ministry, which was affirmed in the correspondence with me, and which was finally affirmed in the letter which the hon. Gentleman wrote to me after the interview to which I have referred.

I hope that this evening the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will not refer to other forces, such as the railway police, or the airport police, because their terms and conditions are different. It is clear that the Port of London Authority Police have always, within living mem- ory, had the same terms and conditions as the Metropolitan Police. Let us this evening stick to the question, and not try to bring in other forces which are irrelevant to the question which I have brought before the House.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will deal seriously with this question. Earlier this evening when he was winding up the previous debate I intervened, and received a dusty answer. It did not matter to me in the least, but I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman realises the harm which that answer will do 12,000 miles away overseas where it will undoubtedly be reported.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot go back to the previous debate.

Mr. Doughty

I am only comparing that answer with the answer which I may receive tonight. The earlier answer does not matter to me, but it will do immense and incalculable harm. If the hon. Gentleman gives me the same kind of answer in reply to this debate that he gave earlier, perhaps thinking that he was doing something rather clever, he will do a fine force, a fine body of men, the same sort of harm that he will do by his previous answer.

It is not too late to reverse the decision. 1 believe that the principle can be re-established by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tonight. There is no reason why this pay should not be back-dated to March, 1967. The figure involved is so trifling that I shall not mention it, though I know what it is. The amount that it would cost the Government is exactly nil, because the payment would be made by the Port of London Authority which is willing, prepared, and anxious to pay. It is only the stubbornness of the Government, their wilful refusal, their total lack of the feelings of people in the force, their ignorance of dealing with human beings for whom I am appealing for justice, that has maintained them in this refusal. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reverse that refusal tonight.

10.13 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Roy Hattersley)

There is not a single historical fact as outlined by the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) with which I disagree. As one would expect. he has stated the case accurately and clearly, but I hope he will forgive me if I go over a little of the ground again, because explaining the case as I see it requires me to say many of the things that he said, but in a slightly different way.

As regards the incomes policy—and it is basically incomes policy that we are debating— the story began on 22nd November, 1966, when my right hon. Friend the First Secretary made a statement to the House outlining the content of the Government's White Paper which covered the period of severe restraint. He said: The Government consider that the police, whose next pay review was originally due to take effect from September, 1966, are in a special position because of their importance in combating crime."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 1151.] Subsequently, an increase of 9 per cent. was agreed for the police.

Subsequently, as the statement said, it was applied retrospectively to March of that year, seven months after the original date of intended implementation. Half of it was paid in July, 1967, half in November, 1967, but irrespective of whether the increase was the initial 4½ per cent. or the eventual 9 per cent., on both occasions the full amount of backdating was paid to the civil police. I concede entirely that that decision was a breach of the prices and incomes policy, and a breach of the criteria laid down by my right hon. Friend in this House. Of course, it was.

That is why as part of a major statement on prices and incomes policy, my right hon. Friend chose to tell the House that this breach was to be made and that this breach was regarded by him as being justifiable. For those who are conversant with the details of prices and incomes policy, the police award was treated as if September, 1966 was not a commitment to review, but a commitment to pay, a commitment which had been decided in terms both of date and amount before that time, and was a firm commitment. The police commitment was, therefore, treated in a way of which I gladly concede was outside the specific and precise terms of prices and incomes policy.

I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman does not want me to justify why the police were so treated. I am sure that he agrees that we were right on this occasion to make this exception. I am sure that it is in no way part of his case to argue that what we should have done was to be completely consistent in prices and incomes policy and paid no one. We are in total agreement that my right hon. Friend's decision to make this exception was an appropriate and justified decision, welcomed in the House and the country. It is one of the problems of exceptions to policies as tight and precise as the prices and incomes policy, that once an exception is made a decision has to be taken as to how far that exception has to go. In short, the line has to be drawn somewhere. My right hon. Friend felt that the appropriate place at which the line should and must be drawn was at the civil police, and no one but the civil police.

The hon. Gentleman has warned me not to refer to consequential increases which might accrue, which might have accrued, or might be expected to accrue to people like the British Transport Police, the British Airports Authority Police, and various other Departmental police. I must say that my advice—and on these matters I take the advice of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—is that while the force to which he refers is directly and specifically related to the Metropolitan Police, all those other forces are directly and specifically related to police pay in general, and the logic of his case would be that if the full 9 per cent. were paid in just the same way to the docks and port authority police, it would only be reasonable that it should be paid to those other bodies, too.

I have no doubt, and neither does my right hon. Friend, that if we had taken this a stage further, not only would it have been those other bodies, but many other people who would have been able to claim almost identical things. With the use of the phrase "almost identical things" let me make one point more than clear. There is no intention whatever on the part of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, or my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, who was then Home Secretary, or on the part of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour or my Department, to draw any distinction between the duties, value and importance of the different forces. No one is suggesting for a moment that the civil police had more important duties or obligations which were so much greater that retrospection was justified for them.

As the hon. Gentleman has fairly said, we are now in a position where those forces are being paid the same annual rate of pay. The parity has been totally restored, and we are arguing, if that is the right word, about the element of retrospection which was allowed for the civil police and not allowed for the docks police. They are in parity of pay because it is our absolute belief that no distinction can be drawn between the importance of their services and their importance to the community as a whole. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not do it and does not wish it to be done, but he will join with me in hoping that nobody will say or imply, within the ports police services, that the Government have drawn a distinction between them and the civil police because the Government feel that they are less important. That is certainly not the case and it is certainly not the sort of principle on which we operate.

What we did—and I say this with all the inadequacies that the statement implies—was to decide that the exception had to be strictly, firmly and precisely limited. I concede that any prices and incomes policy will invariably be arbitrary and occasionally unfair and that it will appear particularly arbitrary and unfair to groups of people who fall on just: the wrong side of the line. I understand how the police forces which were excluded from the element of retrospection felt about our decision, but we were really faced with three possible alternatives.

The first was to allow no special concession to the police force at all. That, I think, would have been universally condermned as irresponsible. The second was to allow the concession to spread not only to the police forces which are rightly related to the civil police forces but to many other bodies, which would claim some sort of comparability and insist on equal treatment. That would have resulted in our discarding the prices and incomes policy and in the breakdown of that policy as we knew it. The third alternative was to draw a line somewhere in between. We took the view that our obligation—our obligation to the prices and incomes policy and, through it, to the economy of the country—was to draw the line as tight as possible; and the tightest line was simply around the civil police forces. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that that was always our intention. My right hon. Friend said in his statement of 22nd November: My right hon. Friends the Home and Scottish Secretaries are prepared to discuss in the Police Council an increase payable in July, 1967, retrospective to March, 1967. His reference to those two right hon. Friends and to the Police Council made it absolutely clear that the people he had in mind were the civil forces and only the civil forces.

I say again that I understand fully the feelings which many of the men who were excluded must have. I hope they will accept our assurance that this was in no way a judgment of their importance, of the difficulty of their job or the nature of their responsibilities. It was the sort of arbitrary decision that springs from a prices and incomes policy and it was taken with the intention of preserving the policy as we knew it, as well as with the intention of allowing the police force in its civil form to have an increase and still make sure that the policy criteria were, in general, applied.

I hope that the force will accept it in those terms. I suspect that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not because his job, and I commend him for it, is to press the case and the cause as hard as he can. However, I reiterate that, in our belief, the interests of the prices and incomes policy and of the police force could he mutually served only by a line being drawn somewhere. In all conscience, the line which excluded everyone except the civil police authorities seemed to be the fairest, clearest and best one to draw.

Now that the civil forces and the quasi-civil forces are back on the same rate of pay, I hope that we can return to the situation in which it is generally accepted and agreed that they are both doing jobs which, if not identical, are almost identical, and that they are both doing jobs for which the rates of pay should go hand in-hand. I understand that the discrepancy which occurred over a few months back dating is bound to be an irritant. However, it was done in terms of preserving the prices and incomes policy and without making judgments about the merits of the rival forces.

Mr. Doughty rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman has exhausted his right to speak, but he may intervene before the Parliamentary Secretary sits down.

Mr. Doughty

With your permission and that of the House, in the few minutes remaining, I should like to say a few words in reply to what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. I thank him for his kind remarks about the Port of London Authority Police but when referring to the civil police he included in that bracket the Port of London Authority Police. That is where the basis of his argument breaks down.

It is not only a question of quantity and the amount of money but of principle. I did not attack the prices and incomes policy. We have debated that often enough. I have accepted that for the purpose of this argument and the decision arrived at for the Metropolitan Police. Whatever decision was arrived at, whether it was right or wrong. it was one which the Port of London Authority Police should be able to follow as they have done for 25 years. To breach that principle and say that this is the exception means that the position should be the same for the civil police.

When the Parliamentary Secretary leaves the Chamber and talks to his Minister tomorrow and reports this debate, I ask him to say to the Minister "I had an awfully difficult debate in dealing with this matter"—not because it was a difficult House for there are only two hon. Members present besides the Parliamentary Secretary. I think his arguments were quite wrong. It is the argument of a weak man to say that a thing is wrong but that he is not going to change it. All I say to the Parliamentary Secretary is, please look at this again. Please see that the Port of London Authority Police has here a genuine and proper grievance. I am not asking for any different treatment for them from that given to the Metropolitan Police but that he should stick to what has happened for the last 25 years. It would not cost the Government any money. I hope the hon. Gentleman will send the letter to me in a very few days saying that he has been persuaded by argument and is going to change this decision.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This has been most irregular.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Ten o'clock.