HC Deb 18 June 1975 vol 893 cc1485-91

This Act shall not apply to service of employment in any police force.—[Mr. Ronald Bell.]

Brought up, and read the First Time.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may discuss Amendment No. 30, in page 13, line 15, leave out Clause 17.

Mr. Bell

I should have said when I moved new Clause 8 that the linked amendment was merely to strike out the existing clause. That is the position as regards Amendment No. 30.

New Clause 9 would prevent the Bill applying to service or employment in any police force. I must say that I find this matter as surprising as the Bill's provisions as regards ships. No doubt the Government are hoping that these matters will work out all right in practice. Of course, there are many women serving in police forces in various capacities. However, the idea that a chief officer of police shall be legally prevented from choosing a proportion of men in his force is absurd.

It is clear that for a certain amount of the time—and if it is not a major part, it is a significant part—a police officer is engaged in physical struggle in arresting people by force and in overcoming people by force. We see them holding back crowds. Quite often they are friendly crowds, but we see pictures of linked policemen. It is clear that that is a matter of size and strength. I would say that the majority of the personnel in our police forces should be men. What is the point of passing an Act of Parliament which provides that a chief officer of police may not have any regard to any such consideration? In theory, a chief officer could end up with seven-eighths of his police force being women. In that event, the force would not be able to discharge its function.

It is no answer to say that these matters change slowly, that for the time being the majority of recruits coming forward will be men, and that the matter will be solved on a practical plane. We are passing a coercive section of an Act of Parliament. I have heard no sensible justification for this provision. Discrimination in the police force between men and women is plainly right as we need a certain proportion of men. Why have the Government put the original clause in the Bill?

I propose to leave out Clause 10 and to replace it with new clause 9. That would leave chief officers of police free to recruit the proportion of men and women respectively that they thought the requirements of their neighbourhood made appropriate.

Dr. Summerskill

I think that the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) was fairly predictable and in line with his speech on new Clause 8.

The Equal Pay Act applies to the police, and we can see no reason for the principle of non-discrimination embodied in the Bill, which covers employment as well as other matters, not applying to the police. In the Metropolitan Police there is already complete integration. Outside London there are separate establishments for men and women police officers. The days when policewomen had only a limited range of specialist duties has gone. Their range of duties is becoming increasingly large. In every force women are serving in at least some of the specialist departments, such as the CID. We have been encouraging police officers to ensure that separate establishments for women make provision for an adequate career structure.

Under the Bill and in general terms, it will no longer be possible for chief officers to discriminate between men and women in recruitment, postings, selection for training or promotion. In each case applicants will be considered solely on the basis of qualifications required for the particular post, and the best person, man or woman will be selected. But there are some important qualifications written into the Bill in Clause 7 which recognise sex as a genuine occupational qualification for jobs. In certain cases those exceptions will be available to chief officers. Therefore, we do not feel able to accept new Clause 9.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

I wish to clarify a number of matters relating to the police. I agree that there is an increasing rôle for women in the police force. I should like to think that that rôle should also be increased in the matter of protection. I agree with what the Minister said on that matter. Bu there is still a wide area of police activity that is wholly unsuitable as a career structure for women.

Undoubtedly, many police in the metropolis have the major task of giving physical protection to Her Majesty's subjects. Let us take the example of a large number of police who are called in to control the Grosvenor Square troubles and a great many others. I appreciate that many women police are experts in judo and can look after themselves in the odd rough and tumble. However, the question involves the matter of balance, and I am a little worried on that score.

If we read Clauses 7 and 17 together, it is difficult to see exactly what the position of the chief constable, and indeed of the Metropolitan Police, will be. It is not enough to say that the police must consider both men and women for a particular job and choose those who are most suitable. They may decide that there are certain areas in the force which are unsuitable for women. If there is a range of work for police in the London area where men are often sent off to cope with rather tough jobs, it is surely unsuitable for such jobs to be advertised as applying to women. There are also certain other fields of police activity which are unsuitable for women.

In those cases involving sex offences, such as prostitution—and I particularly refer to women's prostitution, though this may also involve cases of male prostitution which can be dealt with only by men—is there to be an increase in the number of women to be employed on those cases?

I have considered these problems carefully because I was a member of a Select Committee which considered this problem. We took the view that in some of these matters it was better that the police and, indeed, the clergy should be excluded altogether. However, the police have been included within the ambit of the present Bill. Obviously, we must be careful when seeking to legislate on these matters. I hope that clear guidance will he given by the Home Office in a circular to all chief constables showing how they can carry out their responsibilities fairly while at the same time recruiting more women. At the same time it should be made plain that certain parts of the police force would not be appropriate as part of a career structure for women.

I hope that women will be encouraged to take up detective work because there is no reason why women should not do a useful job in that role. I look forward to the day when the Home Office sets up a proper criminal investigation department—not only on regional but on national lines. However, that is a matter we can discuss on another occasion.

I am not altogether happy about the Government's provisions. I should like an assurance from the Minister that these matters have been discussed betwen the Department and the Metropolitan Police and that criteria will be laid down for chief constables which will be acceptable to the police force as a whole.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I hope that the Minister will consider this matter again and not brush it aside by calling in aid a broad principle. There is a real point involved here.

I am afraid that the matter is being dealt with, as the Minister's speech indicated, by analogy with the Equal Pay Act. It is one thing to apply the provisions of that Act to the police force, but it does not follow that one should apply the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Bill to the police force. I do not know what discussions have taken place with chief officers of police, but I should not be completely happy if matters were left to rest there. In practice they will be able to manage for a few years as they are. However, there is a momentum in these matters. The problem will not arise for a time, and that does not justify the existence of these provisions in the Bill.

The Minister said that there were provisions in Clauses 7 and 17 involving cases where sex was a qualification for the job, but there is little in the Bill which helps one to understand the situation. Are we to envisage in these circumstances the possession of "authentic male characteristics"? Does this involve the preservation of "decency or privacy", or is it likely to involve "physical contact with men"—a situation which might perhaps be complicated if women were employed in such a job? Does it involve the consideration that such employees may have to be in "a state of undress" or that they have to live in with their employers, or to work in hospital prisons, and so on?

Clause 17 refers to height, uniform, equipment, or allowances…". Clause 17(2)(b) refers to "pregnancy or childbirth"—which does not apply to the male constable—and also to pensions. The hon. Lady must accept that there is nothing in the existing clause to deal with that point.

There is beyond question a need for strong, fit young men to deal with situations not only in the metropolis but elsewhere in the country. Our police forces cope with those situations on our behalf because the rest of the population, by reason of age, sex or ill health, are not always able to protect themselves against attack and are protected by the police force. That is their first and primary function, and it involves physical superiority regularly day by day. This ought not to be brushed aside.

I know how these things are done. The hon. Lady is, after all, mandated by the Secretary of State. He is not here. He is not listening to the debate. She is not going to shift her ground today, but this will go to another place, and I urge that she and her right hon. Friend should give this sensible thought and get away from any doctrinaire influences. I realise that she is not going to accept my clause, but I hope that she will consider whether there could not be at any rate some amendment of Clauses 7 or 17, leaving chief officers of police a sensible discretion as to the balance of their force.

8.0 p.m.

Dr. Summerskill

In listening to the debate I was reminded that there was a time when there were no women in the police force at all, and no doubt some might have argued that a woman could not possibly go on the beat or be a mounted policewoman, yet today we see them in both situations and take them for granted. I think we are agreed that there is a place in the police force for men and women. I think the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) is not saying that the police force should be solely manned by men.

We have had discussions and consultations with the police on this Bill, as we have had with very many organisations throughout its preparation. The police are the first to agree that there are areas of work or jobs in the police force where the most suitable candidate might be a man. There are other jobs where the most suitable candidate might be a woman, and others where the choice might be equally man or woman.

The philosophy and principle behind the Bill is that people should be chosen for the job on the grounds of merit, their ability to do the job, and not on grounds of sex. If a chief officer is selecting somebody for a post and thinks that a man would do the job better, or that only a man could do the job, there is nothing to stop him appointing a man. Conversely, there may be a job where a woman candidate is the one he would choose on grounds of merit.

As to Clause 7, relating to exceptions where sex is a genuine occupational qualification, there are certain jobs in the police force for which it is considered that a woman police officer is preferable —for example, searching women, escorting women prisoners, or taking statements from children. But there are a wide range of jobs in the police force today in regard to which physical strength and superiority are not the real qualification. I hope that the House will not approve the clause.

Question put and negatived.

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