HC Deb 27 January 1970 vol 794 cc1503-9

6.46 a.m.

Mr. Wallace Lawler (Birmingham, Ladywood)

We expect and we get high standards generally from our police. However militant the demonstration—whether one against the Springboks' tour or a revolt by students—the police are expected to be there safeguarding the right to demonstrate within the framework of law and order, and sometimes with risk to life and limb. One spectacle which the House and the country would not like to see would be police holding back police at a demonstration by police. The very nature of the duties of a policeman prohibits him from taking part in a demonstration of any kind. I believe we have one of the best police forces in the world, but it continues to lose some of its best men day by day.

It reflects little credit on us that we do not respond by ensuring the best rates of pay, conditions and allowances for those who serve us so well. The net pay of a policeman is now about 10s. a week less than it was before their last pay rise, due to increased superannuation and graduated pension payments. This one plain fact of which this House can hardly be proud underlies the seething discontent within the police force at a time when the responsibility, dangers and risk of injury for a serving policeman were never more pronounced.

The House will no doubt have taken special note of the unusually strong, but in my opinion totally justified, warning from the chairman of the Joint Control Commission of the 100,000 strong Police Federation, backed by 1,400 police delegates at their conference at Brighton last week. He said: The police are seething. Constables of many years service are leaving to drive dust carts and buses". He went on to warn, the British public, some of whom would not sleep so soundly if they knew how thin the blue lines are, may discover to its dismay the true costs of false economy". I hold no special brief for the police. Like many others I am prepared to entertain strong feelings about the bobby who pulls me up for exceeding the speed limit late at night or in the early hours of the morning, but having studied with care the evidence of the Willink Report, published nearly 10 years ago, and the many letters sent to me by police officers and detectives, I am quite certain that the police have a case, and an exceptionally strong case, for immediate improvement in their pay, conditions and allowances.

The Willink Report of November, 1960, stressed the urgent necessity to consider how the social and economic changes of the preceding 20 years should be reflected in a constable's remuneration. In 1970, after 10 further years of unprecedented social and economic change, this urgent necessity remains just as unresolved. Indeed, police pay has fallen far behind the standards laid down in the report.

Not only does the scale of police pay require upward revision, but most of the conditions and allowances applicable today are completely out-dated. One or two recent examples of the meagre allowances inflicted upon the tremendous force of police concerned with the recent Investiture of the Prince of Wales will suffice to prove this. The expenses and allowances of police officers take no account of occasions like this, when prices of food and accommodation are at their peak.

For instance, four officers from the Midlands worked a total of 80 hours overtime, for which only one day—that is, eight hours—was paid. One police officer—the Under-Secretary will be aware of the officer to whom I refer—with a fine record actually worked over 160 hours in 11 days and received the same kind of reduced payment. He was obliged shortly afterwards to leave the police service because of an incorrect claim involving 19s. 6d. The officers concerned did not realise they would receive such a meagre and small payment for their overtime until they received their pay after the Investiture.

I wonder what would happen if this kind of example was applied to any worker in any other profession or industry, if overtime which they had worked was not paid for.

Subsistence allowances for these officers are still disgracefully low and many are forced to take lower standards of accommodation when away from home to avoid being out of pocket. Even then, many find that they remain considerably out of pocket after undertaking important special duties. In fact, many of the large number of officers who were engaged in duties at the Investiture in Wales round themselves about £15 or £20 out of pocket.

The Home Office will be well aware also that there are marked inadequacies in the present conditions attached to full police pensions. A police officer has to serve for 30 years until he is 50 years of age before qualifying for a full pension of two-thirds pay. A full police pension can be drawn for a maximum of 15 years—that is, from 50 to 65 years of age. This is an obvious deterrent to recruits if they realise this.

The allowances to members of the C.I.D. leave very much to be desired. For example, the boot allowance is 3s. 9d. per week. The duty allowance is £1 19s. 1d. per week. The grand sum of 10s. per week is allowed for detective expenses. Frequently they have to work shifts when there is no public transport and have to use their own cars. For this they receive a sum which is perhaps not without some significance to hon. Members—4d. per mile.

I quote from a letter similar to very many that I have received. It is signed by five disgruntled detectives from the Warwickshire and Coventry area: These allowances are laughable at present-day prices and were fixed by Police Regulations in 1965. This job is rather frustrating due to economic factors. … The Home Office has catered for under-manning in respect of seriously under-manned forces, but despite the fact that this force"— that is, the one at Warwickshire and Coventry— is 400 under strength the authorities refuse to pay this. The only overtime paid to C.I.D. personnel is on occasions such as a murder"— although, due to the forces being under strength, such overtime obviously results in a saving of many thousands of pounds per year.

Is it any wonder that there is much widespread dissatisfaction among the police? Is it not a matter of urgent and considerable concern that in the 12 months ended October, 1969, resignations or police officers with more than three years' service—the trained men whom we can least afford to lose—exceeded both the total of normal retire- ments—1,541—and those who resigned with less than three years' service—1,607? I quote from c. 1542 of HANSARD for 18th December, 1969.

Is it surprising that in these conditions even large authorities like the City of Birmingham find it necessary to call conferences to determine what action can best be taken in support of the maintenance of law and order"? Birmingham is well worth quoting because, like many other parts of the country, it happens to be 516 short of its authorised strength of 3,029 police. Like other areas, it finds that even increased recruiting is failing to keep pace with the rate of voluntary resignations.

A letter I have just received from the town clerk of Birmingham says: Investigation of the reasons for voluntary resignations from the force point to the rates of pay and conditions of service, and to the greater inducement which industry and commerce offer. Whilst any loss to the force is a matter of concern, it is all the more serious to lose trained police officers, many of whom have completed long periods of service". Here, then, for the Home Office, is the writing on the wall, and it is only too clear. It comes from 100,000 police and from leading local authorities in the provinces. They have sounded what I feel is the most grave warning. I stress that it should not be given the usual Governmental slow treatment.

Last week, the official body representing the police said that it expected the Home Secretary to reply in eight days to its claim for an immediate pay rise. The Home Secretary told me this week that the matter of police pay will begin to be considered by the Police Council on Friday this week.

The present very grave situation—I have been able to refer to only a few aspects of it—calls for a very full and positive assurance from the Home Office that every possible step will be taken to expedite consideration of the entire field of police pay, conditions and allowances and that exceptionally urgent steps, commensurate with the gravity of the position, will be taken to implement any recommendations immediately they are made.

I am certain that if the Home Office fails to give very full and satisfactory assurances of this or a similar nature, if it prefers to await the full findings and recommendations of the Police Council before giving any of the assurances for which a body representing over 100,000 police has asked, then, despite the doubled amount of public funds allocated to recruiting, the nation will continue to lose more and more of its best and trained members of our police forces at a time when we should be prepared, even at the cost of special legislation, if necessary, to ensure that the police are given fair play and fair pay without further procrastination.

6.59 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan)

I was somewhat surprised that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Lady-wood (Mr. Lawler) chose police pay, allowances and conditions of service as the subject of this debate. I would not wish to suggest that these are not matters in which Parliament should have an active and continuing interest. Of course that is so. But the question which must be asked is whether the timing is appropriate, whether now is the time for the House of Commons to discuss these matters.

I would agree broadly with the eulogies of the hon. Gentleman to the police. He went on to say that police officers were now worse off than they were before the last pay award and mentioned a net diminution of about 10s. due to an increase in graduated pensions, as he stated in a Written Question, the reply to which he received yesterday. I cannot accept his arithmetic. I am sorry to say that he has wildly exaggerated the position.

The Police Council for Great Britain is now beginning its review of police pay as a matter of urgency. As the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland are together responsible for the ultimate approval of the Police Council's recommendations, I am sure that the House will accept that it would be wholly improper for me to say anything about the merits of the case or the possible outcome of the review.

The Police Council is well established as the forum where matters affecting pay, allowances and conditions of service of the police can be discussed between the representatives of the interested parties. Of course the House is entitled to have information about this matter, but at the proper time. This machinery is accepted on all sides. It must now be allowed to function and the people concerned must be allowed to get on with the job, and I am sure that the hon. Member accepts that Parliament is not the appropriate rostrum for deciding matters which can be decided only by negotiation.

Mr. Lawler

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that an official of a responsible body representing 100,000 policemen is exaggerating the position and asking for an assurance that ought not to be and will not be given by the Home Office?

Mr. Morgan

My charge of exaggeration was only in respect of what the hon. Member said about the diminution in net pay of constables compared with the last review. I have already told him that the Police Council for Great Britain is beginning its review of police pay as a matter of urgency. The point I am making is that these matters must be settled by negotiation, the way which is accepted by all parties, and not in any other way, not as an oratorical contest across the Floor of the House of Commons.

I should like to refer to the basis for pay rates. The Royal Commission on the Police, the Willink Commission of 1960, based its recommendation for police pay on a formula which is generally known as the Willink formula. This took account of rates of pay in a number of skilled trades and made allowances for the inconvenience and rigours of life in the police. A deduction was made to offset the value of a policeman's free house.

This formula was not fully accepted by the Police Council and, by the agreement of both sides, subsequent reviews have not used that Willink formula but rather relied on movements in wages generally. For the reasons I have given, I cannot comment on the accuracy of any figures which have been quoted as to the present value of the 1960 agreement.

There are three other matters which I should like briefly to mention. The first is manpower. After consulting the local authority associations, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has recently authorised a substantial increase in recruiting publicity. Secondly, the causes of premature wastage due to men resigning before pension age are under continual review. We are paying close attention to this matter. Thirdly, as for the priority attached to the police; the Government have done a great deal to encourage the growth and increase the efficiency of the police service. They will certainly continue to give it the highest priority.