HL Deb 24 October 2001 vol 627 cc965-8

2.49 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

By whom the consideration of encouragement to suitable police officers to delay their retirement is being carried out; and when such consideration is expected to be concluded and its results made public.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker)

My Lords, the consultants Capita were engaged on 11th September to compile a report to review options and make recommendations as to how suitable officers might be encouraged to delay their retirement. Capita has now completed its report. The results will be given full consideration as part of the police reform process and will be published in due course.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, does the Minister agree that police officers who retire after 30 years' service gain very substantial financial benefits which they lose if they postpone their retirement? Does this not mean that far too many police officers are forced into retirement at just the time they are most experienced, often at the age of 48 which many noble Lords will regard as extremely young? At a time when so many police officers are being transferred to security duties, when other police jobs are not being done properly and when nearly every police force in the country is understaffed and overstretched, does my noble friend agree that, surely, this antique, grotesque and archaic rule should be changed?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, my noble friend puts it in graphic terms, but that was the central purpose of asking Capita to have a look at the situation. Capita has interviewed the key people involved, stakeholders and the officers concerned, and—I blush when I say it—has held focus groups involving volunteer police constables and sergeants. It has also held discussions with key people on the very issue of human resources. There is a disincentive to police officers to remain. After 30 years they can take their full pension and there is a disincentive in not doing so. We want to encourage more flexibility and value for money. However, I must take issue with one point raised by my noble friend. The police are doing the job correctly, although they are a bit thin on the ground in certain parts of the country at the moment for reasons that we all understand.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the recruitment of police officers across many police forces is below Home Office targets? Does he also accept that it is not only a question of recruitment but also of retention of officers? Will he consider the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Janner, that in these circumstances we should not lose the most valuable officers, particularly when they come to retire? Is this the right policy at the present time, bearing in mind that recruitment is difficult?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I said to my noble friend that the implication of carrying out the review is that the Government accept that there need to be changes in the policy across a wide field, not just the age of retirement but the pension itself, so that they can make the best use of those officers who wish to remain in the police service but who see a disadvantage in doing so. The noble Lord is quite right. Police recruitment last year was up by just over 1,300, but in total it is still lower than in 1997. Under the crime fighting fund we expect to recruit 9,000 officers over a three-year period and to that extent we are on track for an increase. However, there is a problem to be dealt with and the review is part of that.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, does the Minister agree that policing on the streets is clearly better served by younger officers, but in the investigation of murder and fraud there is a pool of talent, skill and experience which is lost when people retire? Does he agree that one reason for retirement is the silly rule about tenure introduced in the past few years, which I understand is to be abolished, whereby police officers are transferred out of specialist departments for no reason other than the fact that they have been there for a number of years? Some chief officers are more enlightened than others. Does the Minister agree that where people have investigative skills in specialist departments they should be retained and encouraged to stay in the job?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I freely admit that I am not supremely qualified to answer detailed questions about tenure, but I am aware that when it was introduced in the West Midlands some years ago it caused considerable difficulties for many officers. All things are good ideas at the time they are introduced, but it is a matter of how they work in practice. Some of the 43 chief constables—I am aware that my noble friend believes that there are too many of them—have decided to change the situation. That matter is best left in their hands.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, can my noble friend be clearer on the date when the consultants will report their findings? Perhaps I may request that they do not rush into it. Although there are advantages in encouraging officers to stay on, there are also disadvantages for the line of promotion and so on. I declare an interest in that in the next two months my son, who has served in the police force for 30 years—for two years before that he was a cadet—is to retire. It is interesting that I am able to see my son retire at a comparatively young age.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, there is a problem sometimes in the way that an organisation is structured with ceilings and promotion blockage. That is in no one's interest—either of those doing the blocking or those who are seeking promotion. Such a situation requires flexibility in the use of the available human resources.

I regret that I cannot give a date. The issue is being considered at the moment. The House will expect to see police reform legislation during this Session. This exercise will form part of that process. The issue of police reform goes much wider than retirement and pensions and is highly complex. We have this opportunity, and proposals will be before the House during this parliamentary Session.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, can the Minister say whether in other parts of the public sector where there are known to be shortages of skills and experience similar possibilities are being explored?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, when I answered a similar Question on 12th July I referred to the report from the Performance and Innovation Unit, Winning the Generation Game. When the report was published it made clear that in this country, between the age of 50 and retirement, there were 3 million economically inactive people. That is an enormous waste of this country's greatest asset, which is people's willingness and capacity to work. It happens right across the public and private sectors. The matter is being actively considered throughout Whitehall in the different departments as well as in the private sector. There is no one magic solution. If there is one issue to be dealt with, it is what I consider—I am speaking for myself at the moment—to be the sometimes archaic Inland Revenue rules which cause difficulties for people. That issue is being addressed following the report of the Performance and Innovation Unit.