HC Deb 12 February 1976 vol 905 cc592-4
2. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why the monthly return of strength and vacancies for the police forces in England and Wales, issued by his Department, continues to show separate authorised establishments for men and women.

27. Mr. Michael Morris

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what changes there have been in police establishment since the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

From 29th December 1975, when the Sex Discrimination Act came into force, the separate establishments for men and women officers were combined and returns of the establishment after that date will show only the combined figure.

Mr. Townsend

Will the hon. Lady assure the House that no suitably qualified woman will ever be turned away from the Metropolitan Police on the grounds that some arbitrary establishment level has been reached? Will she assure us that everything possible is being done to encourage the recruitment of more women police officers?

Dr. Summerskill

I can give the hon. Member that assurance. When the Act came into force women police officers comprised 5.5 per cent. of the total strength, and I hope that percentage will increase.

Mr. Morris

Is the hon. Lady aware that in Northampton one woman officer has already resigned and a quarter of the establishment is threatening to resign because they have to patrol at night? Does this not demonstrate the need for an amendment of, or a commonsense approach to, some of the police duties that women are asked to undertake?

Dr. Summerskill

Each police force must decide who is to carry out what duties. I do not think I should comment on the situation in the hon. Member's constituency.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Does the hon. Lady not agree that whatever the Sex Discrimination Act may say there are some things in the police service, as in many other walks of life, that men do best and others that women do best? Will she be very careful in anything she says or does to avoid the suggestion that there is no difference between a policeman and a policewoman?

Dr. Summerskill

The Act recognises that there are genuine occupational qualifications. In the police force these may include the searching, custody, and escort of prisoners, some forms of detective duties and certain welfare duties, for which either men or women may be particularly suited.

Mr. Speaker

It appears that my appeal is not having much effect and that some hon. Members feel entitled to ask two or three supplementary questions I appeal to other hon. Members to confine themselves to one supplementary question.