HL Deb 18 December 1979 vol 403 cc1542-54

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the recommendations of the Edmund-Davies Report on the police negotiating machinery (Cmnd. 7283) which was presented to Parliament in July, 1978. The committee, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, is well-known and rightly admired for its report on police pay. The committee in fact produced three reports. The report on negotiating machinery was in fulfilment of its first remit.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of the background to the report. Section 4 of the Police Act 1969 provided for the establishment of a Police Council for the United Kingdom, composed of representatives of the police authorities and the police staff associations. As at present constituted, the Police Council has dealt therefore with all negotiable matters affecting the police service for the last 10 years and has had a consultative role in matters relating to police pensions. Since 1964, there have been Police Advisory Boards for England and Wales, and for Scotland in addition, to advise the Secretaries of State on consultative matters affecting the police service.

Police pay is determined under the statutes by the Secretaries of State for the Home Office, for Scotland and for Northern Ireland. This is an essential part of the Secretary of State's power to ensure the efficiency of the police service. The Edmund-Davies Committee endorsed this principle. But before making pay regulations the Secretary of State has been required to take into account any recommendation made by the council.

In practice, changes in regulations have rarely been initiated by the Secretary of State. What has happened is that amendments have been produced in response to a recommendation made by the Police Council. The procedure has been for the two sides of the council to negotiate, with the object of reaching agreement. In the event of failure to reach agreement, the matter could be referred to the Police Arbitration Tribunal, a panel consisting of three independent members appointed by the Prime Minister, whose decisions have been binding on both sides.

But in July 1976 the Police Federations for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland walked out of the Police Council and announced that they were no longer prepared to negotiate with the local authority representatives who formed the major part of the official side of the Police Council. The immediate issue was the question of the pay settlement under the pay policy then prevailing. The Police Federation, which, as your Lordships will be aware, represents police officers up to the rank of chief inspector, said that in future they were prepared to negotiate only with the Secretary of State. At the same time, the Police Federation made it known that they would no longer be prepared to take part in the work of other bodies like the Police Advisory Board. This decision would only be reconsidered by them after more acceptable negotiating machinery had been established.

It was in this atmosphere therefore that the Edmund-Davies Committee was appointed by the previous Home Secretary in August 1977 to review the police negotiating machinery and to make recommendations. Four months later, their terms of reference were extended to include the issue of police pay.

The appointment of the Edmund-Davies Committee did not of itself solve the problems besetting the police service. Experienced police officers were leaving the service prematurely in uncomfortably large numbers and recruitment was failing to keep pace with wastage. Between the end of 1976 and the publication of the committee's report in July 1978 the strength of the police service in England and Wales decreased by nearly 1,700. Most forces were under strength, some of them seriously so. But the appointment of the committee by the previous Home Secretary gave the police service hope, and that hope proved to be more than justified.

The committee's report on pay has completely reversed the trend during the two years preceding its publication. Recruitment has been stimulated and is now running at 40 per cent. above the rates for the 12 months ended 30th September 1978. Wastage has been curtailed and is now some 35 per cent. below the rate in the months preceding the publication of the report. Between July 1978 and the end of October of this year, the strength of the police service in England and Wales has increased by over 5,000 to a total of nearly 113,000, which is an all-time record.

But if the present high state of police morale is to be maintained it is essential that the police service should be provided with negotiating machinery in which it has confidence, and it is for this reason that the Edmund-Davies Report on the police negotiating machinery, a report which naturally attracted little attention when it was published simultaneously with the committee's report on pay, is so important.

The committee endorsed the general shape of the existing negotiating machinery. They recommended that the new negotiating body, like the Police Council, should comprise an official side and a staff side. They accepted that the official side should similarly comprise not only, as the Police Federation had recommended, representatives of the Home Departments but also of the local authority associations as the representatives of police authorities, reflecting the fact that police forces are maintained and financed locally as well as nationally.

The Edmund-Davies Committee did, however, recommend three important changes. First, that the new negotiating body should have an independent chairman and one or more deputy chairmen, appointed by the Prime Minister. This was designed to provide both continuity and a genuinely neutral voice in the to-and-fro of negotiation, which may help considerably in bringing the two sides to agreement. Secondly, that the new body should have an independent secretariat to be provided by central Government. Thirdly, that one-third of the English and Welsh local authority representatives on the official side should be magistrates. This was designed to ensure that the national negotiating body should reflect the composition of police authorities which, as your Lordships will know, are composed of two-thirds elected members and one-third magistrates.

The Edmund-Davies Report recommended that legislation should be introduced as soon as parliamentary time could be found to give statutory effect to the new body. Meanwhile, it should operate on a non-statutory basis. The new body, to be known as the Police Negotiating Board, was accordingly established in July of this year under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Plowden.

If I may briefly explain to your Lordships the terms of the Bill, Clause 1 provides for the establishment of the Police Negotiating Board. Subsection (1) provides that it is to be composed of representatives of the police authorities and the police staff associations and that it is to consider such matters as police pay, allowances, pensions and conditions of service. Subsections (2) and (3) leave the detailed arrangements for the establishment of the board to be made after consultations between the Secretary of State and the bodies represented on the board, but require the chairman and any deputy chairman to be appointed by the Prime Minister. Subsection (4) gives the Secretary of State power to defray any expenses incurred by the board and to pay fees to the chairman and deputy chairman, with the approval of the Minister for the Civil Service. Subsection (5) provides that, on the establishment of the board, the Police Council for the United Kingdom shall cease to exist.

Clause 2 confers certain statutory functions on the board. Subsection (1) requires the Secretary of State, before making regulations about matters with which the board is concerned, to have regard to any recommendation made by the board and to furnish the board with a draft of the regulations. As under existing legislation, this requirement does not apply to pension matters in respect of which the Secretary of State is only required to consult the board before making regulations. Subsection (2) of Clause 2 requires the board's constitution to include suitable arrangements for reaching agreement on recommendations to the Secretary of State and for the reference of any dispute to arbitration. Clause 3 deals with the short title and commencement.

This, then, is a small and, I hope, a non-controversial Bill. May I remind your Lordships that it arises because of action which was taken under the previous Government and which is now being put to Parliament for the first time under the present Government. It is, although a small Bill, none the less very important, because its effect will be to establish on a statutory basis the negotiating machinery which is essential to the long-term well-being of the police service. It is for this reason that I commend the Bill to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Belstead).

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has indicated, we all owe a great debt to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies and his Committee of Inquiry on the Police for the immense amount of work they have put into their task, a very demanding one indeed, not only on this particular aspect of their inquiry but also on the others as well. Their first report on the negotiating machinery led directly to the Bill we are debating today. The House will also be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for his admirably clear and concise explanation. I fear that I shall not be able to be quite so concise, but I shall be as rapid as possible.

The Edmund-Davies Committee confronted all the most difficult issues, and that is no less than one would have expected with the chairman and membership it had. In considering this Bill, it is important to recall some of the background against which it is brought forward now. One of the basic facts the committee had to face at the outset was the special position of the police services, the problems that that creates and the need to solve them by having the right sort of machinery and conditions of service. As the report says, at paragraph 15 of the Introduction: The unique role of the police officer is reflected in the unique restrictions and limitations to which he is subjected, … the arduous and increasingly dangerous nature of his duties, a workload which involves night duties and often requires working over weekends and on rest days, and restrictions upon where he may live, even the work which members of his family may and may not do". I think this is something which is generally not sufficiently recognised, still less acknowledged, outside. The report goes on to refer to what it describes as perhaps the most important statutory restriction, against membership of a trade union or association aiming at controlling or influencing pay or conditions of a police force, with criminal sanctions for anyone causing a police officer to withhold his services or commit breaches of discipline. To use the report's own words: There is no room to doubt that … such provisions sprang from the conviction that they are necessary to ensure and preserve the matchless role of the police". Then, after considering whether those provisions may be repealed without imperilling the part played by the police in preserving law and order, and saying that that issue was one of the gravest by which the committee had been confronted, the committee concluded: Careful consideration has led us inexorably to the conclusion that the police should not have the right to strike". The reference, particularly just now, to the increasingly dangerous nature of some police duties is perhaps especially noteworthy. We are not infrequently finding ourselves praising members of the police service for responding beyond the call of duty, but sometimes in praising them, quite rightly, for those actions we are in some danger of failing to acknowledge the extremely high standards of duty expected of them as a matter of routine, and it is right once in a while to give due praise for that and for the daily and often unnoticed acts of courage as well as for the more spectacular acts of heroism. I think it is true, too—and this is something which we should not omit to mention in the context of this Bill—that the police service is to some extent vulnerable and subject to undesirable pressures which occasionally lead to corruption. When that happens, they expect, and indeed we expect them, to be especially vigorous in rooting out the, happily, few bad elements in their midst.

In recalling the background, we should not minimise the importance of the immediate events which led to this inquiry and the need to review the negotiating machinery. It was a dispute over police pay in 1976 and early 1977 which played a crucial part in the breakdown of the negotiating machinery and which led directly to this review we are now considering. It was indeed differences over pay policy which were major factors leading to the loss of confidence of the Police Federations of England and Wales and Northern Ireland in the Police Council and subsequently to the withdrawal of the federations from the work of that council and other bodies.

Although this Bill is itself a small measure, and although moves towards it were already in hand before the present Government took office and before the last Government left office, we should not minimise the significance of the step now being taken if your Lordships pass this measure. If these proposals work as we on this side hope and believe they should, they will mark an important stage in the provision of a sound basis for the future negotiation on pay and conditions for the police service. The Bill itself follows closely some of the recommendations of the Edmund-Davies Committee and the committee did regard its proposals as radical, which indeed they are, if in a rather quiet and unobtrusive way.

One shortcoming of the Police Council, which this Bill replaces, was that it was little more than a formal body with chairmen who have been, essentially, figureheads. I do not say that with any disrespect to them personally; it was part of the system. The aim of the Committee of Inquiry seems to be to make the new board, with its committees, much more involved in all the negotiating work and not just with a role of overseeing the work of the committees. I feel sure that, with the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, as chairman, the new board will indeed be a real working body.

The committee's recommendation, embodied in this Bill, to have an independent chairman of the new board appointed by the Prime Minister, with a deputy chairman or additional deputy chairmen, similarly independent and similarly appointed, is a radical departure, aimed, I take it, at strengthening the body itself, its status and indeed confidence in it, and it is certainly to be welcomed.

It also seems right, as the committee recommend, to retain the existing collective bargaining system which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has explained, with the present police staff associations and the various Government Home Departments as before. The official side also had on it representatives of local authority associations and indeed, while the report was being prepared, while the Committee of Inquiry was actually sitting, there was considerable controversy over whether these bodies should continue to be represented, and over the proportion of local authority representatives who should be magistrates. I believe the committee was undoubtedly right to include the local authority representatives in its conclusions, but I think it would be useful to have it on record from the Minister whether that matter has now been satisfactorily resolved. The committee itself said: By far the chief problem we have had to consider was on local authority representation —that is to say, so far as membership was concerned.

I note that Clause 1 of the Bill provides that detailed arrangements for the establishment of the board are to be made after consultations between the Secretary of State and the bodies represented on it. I wonder whether the Minister can indicate any time-table for those consultations, or how plans for them are proceeding.

I have already referred in passing to the committees of the old Police Council. I say "old", but it will of course remain in existence unless and until this Bill is passed. The Edmund-Davis Committee recommended retaining the existing committee system. It also envisaged, I think, that the independent chairman would preside over the main committees of the new board as well as full meetings of the joint board itself. Again, there would clearly, I think, be greater working involvement of the independent chairman and deputies who would preside over some committees if the recommendations were followed. I should be pleased if the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, could tell us the Government's intentions or inclinations about the committee system.

I come to one other of the Edmund-Davies Committee's departures to a more radical approach—the recommendation for the appointment of an independent secretariat, a recommendation which was made, I think, partly to overcome the feeling within the staff side that the existing one appeared to be too closely associated with the official side; and the recommendation that the personnel for the independent secretariat should be drawn from the Office of Manpower Economies so that they would not have, as it were, an official side stamp upon them. That proposal is obviously accepted by the Government, as is clear from the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill. However, if I may say so, the odd thing is that there is no mention of an independent secretariat in the Bill itself; there is no explicit provision for it in the Bill. Yet, it can be catered for, as the memorandum suggests, under the Bill's provisions.

I am bound to say that I find it strange that the independent secretariat is not provided for in the Bill itself and that the independence of the secretariat is not enshrined in the Bill. I am not at all convinced that that is satisfactory and certainly its omission stood out glaringly when I first looked at the Bill. The Edmund-Davies Committee made much of the need for an independent secretariat. Indeed, to quote one of the passages in its report on this matter, it said: We see the independent secretariat as the cornerstone of the new negotiating body". One is bound to wonder why it has been left out and one perhaps almost fears that, if what is regarded by the committee as the cornerstone were to be left out, dangers would arise for the future of the whole edifice itself. Its absence from the Bill is something to which we may need to return in committee if the Bill receives a Second Reading and if we cannot be reassured.

As the committee said: The proposals we have made are radical, and we hope that in time they will produce that transformation in attitudes which we consider essential … The introduction of an independent chairman and secretariat provides a wholly new format, and fundamentally changes the existing framework which has led to the creation of what we think was avoidable suspicion and hostility". The committee goes on to hope that the new machinery will protect the position of the police in what it calls the "pay league" and so obviate the need for major reviews of this kind, of which I believe the Minister himself said there have been four since 1949.

It is indeed the case that both sides of the new negotiating body will be jointly engaged in reaching agreements to ensure that in the United Kingdom we have efficient and contented police services. I would share the committee's view that: The attainment of that goal is vital to the well-being of our society", as it mentions in paragraph 126.

There have been some encouraging signs, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has indicated—for example, on recruitment—since the first two Edmund-Davies Committee reports came out, in July last year and since the announcement of my right honourable friend the then Home Secretary, Mr. Merlyn Rees, on 17th July last year accepting, albeit in two stages, the recommendations of the Committee on Police Pay; and indeed since the present Government's own announcement. It is useful, I think, to be reminded and to have set out those recruiting details.

It is, in my submission, part of Parliament's job to provide the right basis on which police services can operate effectively and, indeed, enthusiastically. This Bill is a step in that direction and I would wish to give it a general welcome.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, with that lucidity which one is accustomed to expect of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, there are two propositions set out in paragraphs 6 and 7 of the joint introduction to the reports with which I know all your Lordships will entirely agree. Paragraph 6 simply reads in this way: We live in a parliamentary democracy. The concepts of law and its impartial enforcement are fundamental to it". Paragraph 7 then adds: The instruments essential to the continued fulfilment of these concepts are an independent judiciary to interpret the law, the police to maintain and enforce it, and the armed forces to protect us from external aggression. These three groups of people are unique in our society and essential to its continuation". It is because of that that this apparently modest Bill is, in fact, of considerable importance. It is of importance because it deals with the machinery for the negotiation of pay and conditions for this extremely important group in our community—the police. Therefore, it is right that the Bill should be given considerable attention in your Lordships' House.

Of the three principal recommendations in the Edmund-Davies Report, the Bill in fact deals specifically with only one: that is, the proposition that there should, in future, be an independent chairman of the negotiating board. That has, of course, been tried on previous occasions.

Your Lordships may recall that after the Oaksey Report many years ago there was an independent chairman, the late Sir Eric Coates, and the system of having an independent chairman was tried. It did not at that time meet with complete success and in the result, after the 1960 Royal Commission, the present system was adopted, under which, instead of having an independent chairman, the chairman was provided by the official and the staff side in alternate years. That again, it is clear from recent history, has not been successful—largely, of course, for the obvious reason that such a chairman is not best suited to be able to exercise a conciliatory or arbitrating role as between the two sides when he is so clearly the representative of one of them.

Therefore, it is, I venture to think, right that the Edmund-Davies Committee on balance came down in favour of reverting to the former procedure and having an independent chairman, which is what this Bill provides. Where the Edmund-Davies Committee's Report goes further—and this is clearly envisaged by the Bill—is as regards the second recommendation, that for the first time this independent chairman will have an independent secretariat to support him. That, I believe, will make a great deal of difference to the prospects of success for the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, in his difficult task.

The position up to date, as your Lordships will know, is that the secretariat has, in fact, been provided by the Local Authorities Conditions of Service Advisory Board, known somewhat clumsily, I believe, as LACSAB to those who are devotees of naming people by the initials of a particular body. The position, in fact, was that the secretary of the official side on the police board was the chief official of LACSAB, and it was quite inevitable that in those circumstances he was thought to have a somewhat advantageous position over the secretary of the staff side with whom, nominally, he was intended to be on an equal footing.

It appears that the proposal to have a small independent secretariat will be of very great importance in the future in supporting the role of the independent chairman. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, said about the fact that this Bill does not specifically provide for an independent secretariat. I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has to say about this, but it may be that one would hardly expect an Act of Parliament to provide for the formation of a secretariat perhaps in precisely those terms. But clearly it is envisaged by the Bill; as the noble Lord, Lord Boston, pointed out, the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum quite specifically refers to the fact that the board will have a small independent secretariat provided by the Office of Manpower Economics. It is clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has said today that the Government entirely accept that obligation.

That is really the full extent of this Bill as it stands. There is, of course, the third important recommendation of the Edmund-Davies Committee—which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead—that there should be magistrate members of police authorities represented in force on the official side of the new negotiating board. That, again, is a proposal that we would very much welcome. It would appear to us that magistrate members of police authorities are perhaps a little less likely to be politically partisan on occasion than are the elected members of those local authorities and they might, therefore, help to add an independent and perhaps rather more stable element to the official side of this board. That, of course, is not specifically provided for in the Bill. As I understand it, the provisions for the constitution of the board remain to take effect after the Bill has passed into law. But it would no doubt be of assistance if the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, would indicate that the Government are committed to accepting that third recommendation of the Edmund-Davies Committee. With those few observations, we on these Benches welcome the Bill and wish it well.