§ 2. Mr. Grylls
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will consider the introduction of a Home Counties allowance to help police officers meet the extra cost of living in areas of high housing cost.
§ Mr. R. Carr
Police pay and allowances are a matter in the first instance for the Police Council and under a standing agreement police officers are entitled to free accommodation or to a rent allowance in lieu. This allowance, which is effectively free of tax, is related to rents and rates in the area and can be increased outside the pay limit.
§ Mr. Grylls
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that the exceptionally high cost of housing in Surrey is a great deterrent to recruitment? It is of great concern that at present we in Surrey are 105 officers or 10 per cent. below establishment. That is worrying a large number of people.
§ Mr. Carr
Yes, indeed. But I am aware, too, I am glad to say, that the strength of the Surrey force is still rising this year, as it has been in recent years, and I hope that that will continue. Under present arrangements the rent allowance, which is the way of dealing with the problem, has a further eight months to run. It will then be renegotiated in the normal way outside the pay limits.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
We welcome the Home Secretary's suggestion that allowances for areas of high cost housing will be considered by the Pay Board. Has he been able to make representations to suggest that next summer is a late date for a report from the board on that matter?
§ Mr. Carr
As the hon. Lady will understand, it is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, but I promised the House last week that, because of the urgency, we would do all we could to urge the Pay Board to produce the report as quickly as possible. I believe that my right hon. Friend has already taken action in that direction.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that this is a symptom of a difficult situation, not only in those areas which have been mentioned but throughout the country, when serious crime is increasing and the police force is below strength? Will my right hon. Friend do everything he can at the earliest possible moment within the limits of stage 3 to see that inducements are given to increase police recruitment?
§ Mr. Carr
I am glad to say that police recruitment over the whole country is going quite well still. Police strength earlier this year exceeded 100,000 for the first time. I am also glad to say that in 1973, for the first time in many years, crime is on the decline. While we are not in any way complacent about it, I can only assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to give the same high priority to the maintenance of law and order.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
The right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged the gravity of the manpower situation in the Metropolitan Police force. Will he now say what in his view is the earliest date by 1148 which the Police Federation's claim for a differential increase in pay for London policemen can be settled within the terms of the Government's policy?
§ Mr. Carr
The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that it is a matter for the Police Council. I can only assure him that, in so far as the Police Council may be dependent on anything I may have to do, I shall do my best to ensure that it is not held up. Meanwhile, I believe that the new London allowance agreed for the metropolitan area, which raises from £10 to £15 the maximum rent allowance, should be of substantial help.