HL Deb 04 March 2002 vol 632 cc9-11

3 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether current investigations of the terms of employment and retention of senior police officers include consideration of losses of gratuities and tax-free benefits incurred by those who remain in the force beyond 30 years.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker)

My Lords, we have no reason to believe that officers who remain in the police service beyond 30 years stand to lose any gratuities or tax-free benefits. The Police Negotiating Board's recent failure to agree a package of measures for modernising police pay and conditions affects the 30-plus scheme for officers in junior ranks—that is, below the rank of assistant chief constable—since it was part of their package. However, in the longer term, we remain hopeful that this or a similar initiative will go ahead.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does he accept that there are probably thousands of officers who should be kept in the force who are more or less forced out because of the advantages of leaving after 30 years' service—often at the age of 48 which most noble Lords will consider is extremely young? In those circumstances, surely he should be consulting with the Exchequer as to how to deal with the advantages which now exist for people who leave after 30 years, so that these can be extended to those who stay on longer where they are desperately needed.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I can tell my noble friend that there is a scheme on the table following the consultations and the consultants' report from last year which the Police Negotiating Board dealt with before Christmas. Obviously, there has been a failure to agree and there is a conciliation process going on at the moment. Therefore, we must be careful what we say about that because we want a successful outcome. Nevertheless, the existing 30-plus scheme applies to officers below the Association of Chief Police Officers' rank where there is a business case to be made for his or her retention. The key features are retirement with a tax-free lump sum; re-entry into service in one's former rank; and pension abatement lifted to make up for any rent allowance lost on retirement. There are some other factors as well.

The point that my noble friend raised and has raised continually, I hope will be met by a successful outcome of the conciliation process.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, given that the objective of any new system is to retain experienced police officers in the service, was my noble friend the Minister as surprised as I was probably three weeks ago to receive a letter from an officer approaching the age of 60 with in excess of 30 years' service? He was quite happy to stay on in his position as a criminal intelligence officer. He was offered the right to stay on but was given three shifts working outside on patrol. That is not really an appropriate job for an officer with that length of service. Will my noble friend agree that we can change the rules forever more, but it should be underpinned by the application of common sense by chief officers?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. I recall the letter. I have it in my file and I shall respond to it in due course. We would not expect good managers to put people of that standing out on the frontline because, by definition, given their age, fitness levels and other factors, we want to use their skills and experience to the best possible advantage.

My noble friend raises a point. But the matter gets worse, because the officer said that one of the reasons he was not allowed to remain was that they could not get their heads around the fact that he could go any time at 28 days' notice. Once people have done 25 years they can go at 28 days' notice. So there is nothing unusual in that. That is a question of straightforward management capability—in this case of the Northumbria Police Force.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I am grateful that the Minister mentioned that discussions are taking place regarding those below the level of assistant chief constable. Can he explain whether it is possible for those above the grade of assistant chief constable and chief constables to benefit, particularly when one remembers that retention is a very serious problem? Can he say whether, in considering comparable services, it will be possible to ensure that the policing experience of good people is not lost?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, there are different rules for officers of assistant chief constable rank and above. There are differences in terms of retirement age. But the higher the rank of the officer to be retained, the harder it will be to make a business case for his or her retention instead of bringing in a new recruit. Of course those officers will actually be managing the scheme that comes out of the Police Negotiating Board conciliation process. Therefore, it is important that the scheme does not apply to the people actually administering the scheme. The vast majority of police officers up to chief superintendent level would stand to gain under the scheme that is actually on offer.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, the significance of this scheme for people who have completed 30 years' service is in its impact on the morale of the force in general. However successful the negotiations over this specific issue might be, does the Minister agree that the benefit gained will be as nothing compared to the loss resulting from some rather unfortunate remarks which have emanated from the Government in recent times, partly as a result of their failure to win—if one can put it that way—the ballot in the Police Federation over their pay proposals and also remarks made to certain chief officers about what might or might not happen if they fail to perform precisely as specified by particular government Ministers?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, we have record recruitment and record numbers of police officers. I have mentioned twice that we are in a conciliation process relating to an industrial relations issue. Frankly, it would be counterproductive for me to comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has said because he was not very specific and just hinted at various things that have been said.