HC Deb 03 August 1976 vol 916 cc1551-7

Lords Amendment: No. 2, in page 7, line 22, leave out "twelve" and insert "six".

Dr. Summerskill

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Hon. Members will recall that in response to pressure from all sides of the House we put down an amendment at Report stage, which now appears as subsection (2) of Clause 7, whose effect was that if within a period of 12 months the board has not made arrangements with an authority, other than a police authority, for the new scheme to be applied to any body of constables maintained by that authority, the Secretary of State had power to make such arrangements by order.

In the course of debate on the amendment on Report, we undertook to accept a further amendment, put down by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), the effect of which would have been to reduce from 12 to six months the period after which the default power could be exercised. Although this other amendment was not moved we nevertheless wished to honour the undertaking that we had given, and that is what this amendment does.

Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)

We welcome the Government's attitude to this amendment. The fact that it has now been accepted goes some way towards narrowing the differential between the regular police forces, such as the Metropolitan Police and other forces maintained by police authorities, and other police bodies.

I draw the Under-Secretary's attention to the fact that this is an increasingly sensitive area. The relationship between the two kinds of police forces is not only sensitive but is peculiarly relevant at the present time, because the Government have got themselves into a muddle over police pay. Had this amendment not been accepted a serious situation would have been made even worse.

I hope that the hon. Lady appreciates the unsatisfactory way in which the Government are handling the police pay claim and that she will take this opportunity to say something reassuring to the police about this matter, especially at a time when this Bill, relating to complaints against the police, has caused considerable misgivings.

The police case has been particularly insensitively handled when one considers the way in which the Government handled another extremely sensitive area—that of pay and pensions of Members of Parliament. The House will recall that when we debated the Parliamentary and Other Pensions and Salaries Bill the Government agreed that MPs' salaries and pensions arrangements should be geared to an agreement that had been reached, though not published, at least two months before the Government produced their White Paper on pay and prices. In the case of the police the agreement was reached with the service in general before the September deadline on the pay and prices policy of £6 a week, and the Government have refused to allow the police to negotiate from September on the basis of that first phase of the policy.

This issue is extremely important in the context of the amendment, because the amendment brings out the sharp difference between the regular police service and the other kinds of police concerned. The regular police feel that they have had an extremely shabby deal in the way in which this matter has been handled. I hope that the Under-Secretary will take the opportunity to make it quite clear that the Government have not closed their minds to the possibility that negotiations will be opened on the basis of the £6-per-week first phase of the policy, since the previous pay policy was concluded in June 1975 and phase 1 of the new policy did not start until September. The hon. Lady has recognised the relevance of this important provision, and I hope that we shall have a comment from her about it in order to reassure the police in the context of a Bill that is deeply demoralising to them.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I sympathise with the expressions of opinion by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) about the position of the police, and I admire his ingenuity in managing to relate it to the amendment. I wish, however, to confine my remarks to saying how much I appreciate the Government's attitude, in the light of the very strong feeling expressed in Committee, to the relationship in the complaints procedure between police forces maintained by local authorities and those maintained by various kinds of employers.

I am pleased to see the timetable I had originally envisaged finding its way, through the amendment, back into the Bill. There was a willingness in the other place to take the same line that we took in Committee and on the Floor of the House, and I hope that this has convinced the Under-Secretary that she must make the fullest use of these default powers. It would be a great mistake if the Home Office were to feel that it could let any police force slip out of the net. It is a default power which the Home Office is not obliged to use.

Members of the forces affected are, certainly in every case known to me, determined to be put on the same footing as local authority police forces. They want to be on the same basis from the point of view of pay, although they have usually had to argue that case from an adverse position and not from the favourable position that has emerged recently. They want to be on the same footing in relation to discipline, complaints, and everything else. They do not want to be treated as second-class police forces. They want to be subjected to the same rigours and to meet the same standards as regular police forces, and I am glad to see a Government commitment to that principle.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I am glad that the hon. Membert for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is pleased. So am I. He has very properly said that the other police forces are anxious to be treated the same as regular police forces. But they have not been. The other police forces have all received the £6 increase under phase 1 of the pay policy. The regular police have not. The one thing which therefore distinguishes the regular police, with all their responsibilities, from all the other police forces, who the hon. Gentleman says are now to be made to conform with the regular police, is that the regular police have been excluded from the £6 while all the other police forces of which we are now speaking have been included. This is the heart of the matter.

The object of the amendment is to bring non-local authority police forces into conformity with the regular police, but a distinction will remain in the crucial area of pay. I find it impossible to understand why the Government should do this. The Government have handled this pay matter with a degree of insensitivity that is almost unbelievable. At a time when law and order are at risk and crime is increasing, we cannot afford discontent over pay or the risk of disaffection in the regular police service.

There are voices within the police service talking of militant action. I am happy to say that this is not the view of the Police Federation, with which I have a connection. But it should not go unnoticed by the Government that there are those within the service who are so unhappy about the insensitive way in which the Government have handled the pay question that they are talking of industrial action. No Government should act in such a way that this might occur.

Mr. Speaker

Order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not need any moral support. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) will realise that we are on a narrow amendment relating to a time period of 12 or six months. This is not a Second or Third Reading debate.

Mr. Griffiths

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker. I was just about to say how pleased I am that my amendment on this point in Committee is now being put into the Bill as a result of its consideration in another place. Consequently I am conscious of the narrowness of the amendment. It was the point that I raised in Committee.

The drive of the amendment is to bring the regular police services and other police forces into conformity within a period of six months. It would be wrong if within that period the Government did not achieve conformity in pay as well as in complaints procedure. I hope that the Minister will not say that during that six months it will be impossible to bring the police into conformity with other groups in respect of £6 a week increase.

The last police settlement was agreed in June last year. It was not implemented until later in the year. In our debate on parliamentary pensions and pay increases, however, the Minister based his case for hon. Member receiving increases on the fact that the report from the Top Salaries Review Body had been received on 13th June. That is precisely analagous to the phase 1 position of the police—but they are being left out. It must be right to conform salaries as well as arrangements for complaints between the regular police and other forces within the six months mentioned in the amendment.

I wish to make two other points. First, the Under-Secretary will recall that in Committee she said that it might not be easy to bring all the other forces into line within six months because there were so many of them. After a note had been passed to her by her officials, she said that there might be as many as 40 or 50 and that there were even some private police forces of which the Government themselves were not wholly aware. I found that a very curious statement, but nevertheless I accepted it.

I hope that tonight the hon. Lady will tell us whether her researches have now revealed how many of these other police forces exist, exactly who employs them and how many people are involved, so that we shall know who precisely will be conforming with the police service over complaints procedure within the next six months. This is important. I believe that there should be a schedule setting out precisely which are those other forces.

Finally, there is the simple point that it would be wholly invidious if two police officers dealing with the same incident, perhaps on British Rail for example, were to find themselves in a situation in which the one who was employed by British Rail was not subjected to the complaints procedure whereas the regular officer at his side was subjected to it. The amendment will deal with that problem. I am glad about that. However, it is crucial that we should know which are the other private police forces to which the amendment will apply.

Dr. Sumnerskill

I am gratified to note the unqualified welcome that Opposition Members have given to the amendment. I did not really see the relevance to the amendment of the remarks about the pay and pensions of Members of Parliament or, indeed, police pay. However, with regard to the comments of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), in view of his request to know the names, if possible, of every individual police force I shall certainly write to him and give him, as far as possible, a comprehensive list. I pointed out in Committee. however, that there are many organisations—some of which I named—that have police forces which may be on only a temporary basis and which may exist for some weeks or months and then be disbanded. It is not always possible to keep an exact record of which forces are in operation at a particular time. However, I shall look into this matter and let the hon. Gentleman have a list that is as comprehensive as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

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