HC Deb 10 June 2002 vol 386 cc588-9
7. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

If he will make a statement on early retirement from the police force. [57053]

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham)

We want to ensure that the skills and expertise of experienced police officers are retained by forces for as long as is practicable. The level of ill-health early retirement has fallen under the Government, but it is still important to ensure that we resort to it only where necessary. We therefore welcome the fact that the Police Negotiating Board has agreed in principle a fairer and more consistent approach towards early retirement due to ill health.

Miss McIntosh

Will the Minister join me in congratulating North Yorkshire police, especially the chief constable, on reducing the number of officers applying for early retirement through ill health? Does he agree, however, that a pensions timebomb is ticking? North Yorkshire police cannot be unique in having more retired officers being paid out of the police budget than active operational officers. Earlier this year, the Home Secretary promised a statement and proposals on the funding of police pensions. When might we have that statement?

Mr. Denham

I hope that we shall introduce proposals on pensions, in line with those set out in the White Paper, as soon as possible. One of our aims was to try to ensure that police forces are more insulated from the fluctuating cost of ordinary retirements. However, it would probably be a step in the wrong direction to insulate police forces entirely from the costs of poor management or mismanagement of, for example, ill-health retirement. I welcome any moves to improve the situation in North Yorkshire, but it is a matter of fact that in the last full year—to 2001–58 per cent. of its officers retired due to ill health. That is a very high proportion indeed and one that has inevitably put a pensions cost on the people of North Yorkshire.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many officers approaching retirement age, and indeed many women police officers, are exactly those most suited to community policing and to being bobbies on the beat? Will he therefore consider what has happened recently in the city of Nottingham? On 2 April, a community beat officers system was introduced, yet within seven weeks that decision was reversed. Will my right hon. Friend make some inquiries into why certain chief constables are not living up to the Government's rhetoric?

Mr. Denham

As my hon. Friend has raised the matter, I shall certainly familiarise myself with the situation in Nottingham, but I have to say that the decision about exactly how to deploy the rising number of police officers is an operational one for chief constables. My hon. Friend is right to say that we want to ensure that, as the number of police officers rises, one of the key roles that they fulfil is to be visible in local communities, identifying and solving problems and tackling and reducing the fear of crime, as well as tackling crime itself.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

In the year to the end of March 2002, 82 Sussex police officers retired at the normal retirement age, yet almost as many 77—resigned early, let alone those who retired early through ill health. Why does the Minister think that is?

Mr. Denham

The level of wastage from the police service in England and Wales has remained remarkably unchanged for a number of years at under 5 per cent. It is true that a small number of forces have shown a much higher rate of early retirement than the vast majority of police forces. That is why officials from our Department are working with those police forces to identify the reasons why and to make sure that everything is done to ensure that their performance on retention is in line with that of the rest of the police service.

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