HL Deb 10 November 1975 vol 365 cc1573-5

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why police forces are allowed to practise discrimination in employment on grounds of height.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, the present general minimum height is 172cm for men and 162cm for women. Chief officers of police have discretion to accept candidates below the minimum height limits.


My Lords, is it not true that certain police forces have a very definite minimum above that standard? Is it not also true that people who are small can be both psychologically and physically able to be policemen; and is not such blanket discrimination a bad thing and on a par with other forms of discrimination?


My Lords, I believe that there are only two or three forces in the country which apply higher standards than these. This matter has been discussed on a number of occasions by the Police Advisory Board, and this is the general practice in the whole of the police service. I should emphasise that chief officers have the right to relax these rules, and do so in a significant number of cases.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of us who were in France in the First World War sometimes had the honour of serving alongside the Bantam Battalions, and those little fellows from the South Wales coalfields were some of the toughest guys in the world? Is he further aware that there are sometimes company sergeant majors who are below 5 ft. 6 ins. in height, but who are quite capable of performing the arduous responsibilities of their office?


My Lords, I note what my noble friend has said about his experience in the First World War serving alongside the Bantam Battalion. I believe that I can go one better, because I have an uncle who served in that battalion. I have no doubt that they rendered distinguished service. Nevertheless, it is right to say that this matter has been discussed throughout the police service and the general view—and I think it is right—is that it is desirable that there should be a minimum height rule. That is the rule that I have indicated exists, but it gives chief officers power to relax it in appropriate cases; and that is done.


My Lords, can my noble friend tell me why, if in the world of boxing it is weight and not height that determines a man's prowess, it is not applied to other fields?


My Lords, one of a number of rules that I apply to myself is never to become involved in controversy with my noble friend on the subject of boxing. I think it is also right to say that the qualities looked for in a boxer are not necessarily those for which one looks in a policeman.


My Lords, in view of the fact that there is a great shortage of police in most forces, will my noble friend have a word with the Secretary of State to see whether there can be some relaxation with a view to building them up to strength? Since in most areas there is a great shortage of police, and in my own village there is serious concern over the matter, would this not be a way of helping to overcome the shortage?


My Lords, I have already indicated that chief officers have power to relax the rules in appropriate cases. I should add that there has been a substantial improvement in police recruitment over the past 12 months, and that a number of police forces are now approaching a situation where they are up to establishment.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the average person in trouble will look up to a policeman of 6ft. 4ins., but look down on one of 4ft. 2ins.?


Finally, my Lords, will the Minister take on board the fact that there is a matter of principle involved here; that there is no difference in principle between saying that women cannot have certain jobs because, say, 70 per cent. of them are not strong enough, and saying that people cannot have jobs because 70 per cent. of them who are not of the minimum height are not able to do the job? Blanket discrimination is a bad thing. Will the Government look at this as a matter of principle?


My Lords, that point was dealt with in the Sex Discrimination Bill and, so far as I can recall, there was no discussion on it at all.

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