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Police (Pay And Conditions)

Volume 932: debated on Monday 16 May 1977

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4.4 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House, appreciating the genuine grievances of the police forces over their pay and conditions of service, urges Her Majesty's Government to settle the current dispute fairly and quickly; and calls upon the Home Secretary to set up without delay an independent inquiry into the Police Council and the future method of assessing a fair and just wages structure for the police forces.
I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will feel that it is timely that we should be debating the police today, for we have reached a point at which no one is happy. I do not believe that the Home Secretary, Ministers in the Home Office or the Government can be happy to be in dispute with our police forces. We of the Opposition are certainly not happy about the sequence of events which has led to this dispute; the Police Federation, the negotiating body for the vast majority of policemen, is also most unhappy; and, most important of all, the rank-and-file members of the police force believe that the current situation is intolerable. I hope, therefore, that with a constructive discussion today we can go some way towards resolving a most difficult and potentially dangerous situation.

The current position is that the Government are in a state of deadlock with the police. Talks have broken down, the Government's pay offer is considered to be unsatisfactory by the Police Federation, and the Federation has left the Police Council where these discussions take place. Clearly, some way must be found out of this impasse with honour and with fairness for all.

Of course, this situation has come about because of the Government's pay policies. There is no point in my mincing any words over this. But it is not because our police forces are suffering the same equality of misery which is common to the entire work force of the country as a result of the social contract that I have raised this matter today. It is because I believe that the grievances of the police are genuine and that their situation has not been considered in a fair and just manner that I have put down the motion on the Order Paper.

Perhaps I could start by commenting briefly about "special cases". I am not sure that this phrase does not by now qualify as one of the most overworked phrases in our industrial vocabulary. Every section of industry considers itself to be a special case when it comes to a pay claim. Perhaps the furthest back that I can remember is the nurses in the early 1960s, followed in almost endless succession by the dockers, the miners, the engineering workers, the electricity workers, the toolmakers, the seamen and so on right through the industrial vocabulary. Let me say that I do not believe that in this particular context the police are a special case, because that is to confuse the issue. What I am certain of is that they are a different case from all the others I have mentioned, and I shall try in a few words to explain why.

It has always been accepted that our democratic society must be protected. For our society to remain free, those whom we charge with our protection must not only be, but must be seen to be, independent, in so far as it is possible, of political interference. Thus, our Armed Forces which protect us from external threat have always been prevented, as a condition of their service, from taking part in industrial or political associations, so that it is clear to our people that they are impartial and totally subject to the authority of the democratic Government of the day. But the consequence of this is that, if they are to be independent of industrial associations, no one can exert industrial pressure on their behalf, nor can they do so themselves. I do not think that there are more than one or two people in the House who would wish it otherwise.

On the other hand, we have a complex system of industrial bargaining headed by powerful trade unions which negotiate with Governments and within industries for the living standards of their workers. In between these two quite easily-defined extremes lie such services as the police. But here is the first fault of the system. Neither are they taken care of and protected as far as their pay and conditions of service are concerned, as the Armed Services are by the Government of the day, nor can they freely negotiate their pay and conditions of service in the industrial market place, as can those who are affiliated to the trade union movement.

Since it is inconceivable to me, and, I suspect, to many of my hon. Friends, that we could still maintain the atmosphere of a democratically sensitive police force if policemen were to compete at the same time in the industrial jungle, it seems clear that they must, as an alternative, be given the same, or roughly similar, independent and fair treatment as we accord to our Armed Services.

The price we must be prepared to pay to maintain independent and politically neutral police forces is a guarantee to those who serve in them that their pay and conditions of service will be independently assessed without recourse to the industrial struggle of the moment which exists, and rightly so, as part of the free collective bargaining element of the trade union movement.

Surely, no right hon. or hon. Member could contemplate other than with utter horror the prospect of industrial action by our police forces. Indeed, the only right hon. Gentleman who has so far said that he could do so—the Lord President of the Council—left the Chamber, not insignificantly, a moment ago.

We have shown that as a nation we can, if necessary, survive without coal, without heat, without transport and without many of the other services which we consider to be essential but which, under hardship, can be forgotten. But one thing is clear to me. We cannot survive without the protection of the law, and neither can we survive in the domocracy which we now know without both a stable and a politically impartial police force. Lack of coal or lack of heat merely makes us uncomfortable. Lack of law and order destroys the very fabric of our democracy and is a totally unacceptable prospect.

In trying to analyse how the present state of affairs has come about, I realise that the factors which make up a policeman's pay are complex, as are the values to be placed on the various aspects of a police officer's service. Indeed, not only are they complex in themselves but they impinge to an extent—to a minor extent, but nevertheless materially—on other organisations as well, since such ancillary police forces as exist throughout the United Kingdom, in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man as well as within the Ministry of Defence, will have any settlement of theirs consequent upon whatever settlement is reached for the regular police forces of our country.

I am glad that my hon. Friend has referred to the Ministry of Defence Police, because among all our police forces there can be no other group of officers who can claim with justification to have been more unjustly and unfairly treated. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Ministry of Defence Police have had their claim outstanding since June 1975, before the introduction of the present pay policy? Their claim was based on a letter to them by the Civil Service Department as long ago as spring 1974; yet still the Government have not lived up to the commitment which was made to them about pay.

I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in this matter, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will pass his remarks on to her colleagues in the Ministry of Defence. I know that it is a very serious matter.

My hon. Friend has reinforced my argument. To analyse the matter more fully would take more expert knowledge and experience than I possess, so I do not intend to wade through the small print of the pay claim, although I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) will have more to say in detail about the justice of the police pay claim if he catches the eye of the Chair. Suffice it to make one important point and then to put some flesh on the bare bones of the argument by giving some examples that I have obtained at first hand from policemen with whom I have talked.

When the Royal Commission on the Police reported, it set the average wage of a constable at 4 per cent. above the average earnings of an adult male in industry. When police pay was restructured, it was done on the basis that the average policeman's wage should be 104 per cent. that of the national average.

One of the chief complaints that brought about the current dispute is that the pay of the police has fallen behind that of everyone else, and the situation is no longer tolerable. It is now a fact—I assume that it is a fact, because the Government do not deny it and it has been stated often enough—that the average police constable now receives 82 per cent. of average male earnings. The Minister still does not deny that, which reinforces my belief that it is a fact.

Whether we are talking about a pay pause or about phase 1 or 2, surely no Government can tolerate such a comparative lowering of standards for their public servants. It hardly needs to be said that no trade union leader would be able to tolerate such a situation and still keep his job. If our policemen are now receiving nearly 20 per cent. less than the average wage, and the public are made more aware of this, surely any adjustment that has to be made to correct this imbalance will have the full support of the vast majority of our people.

During a series of meetings that I have held with groups of policemen in my constituency, they have shown me their pay slips. Whatever figures are bandied about by one side or another, I can only report that a constable who lives near me, who is married, with two children, and has seven years' service, is taking home just under £40 a week.

From pay slips provided by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), I have the following examples. A single man, an ex-cadet, 19 years of age, is taking home £149·21 a month. A married man with two children, 36 years old, with six years of police service, has take-home pay of £180·87 a month. A single man, 26 years old, with only 15 months' police service, has take-home pay of £119·82 a month—that is, just under £27 a week.

One policeman told me rather ruefully that were it not for his £1 a week bicycle allowance that he receives as a village bobby he would qualify to apply for family income supplement. Here I must draw attention to a most extraordinary remark made by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department on 5th May in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw):
"But I do not think that anybody should be ashamed of claiming family income supplement. It is not a matter either of pride or of shame."
Indeed, there is no shame to a police officer who has to claim it. The shame belongs totally to Ministers who still tolerate a pay level at which police officers have to resort to such claims because they are so badly paid.

I have one more example which gives even more cause for alarm than the others I have given. It concerns another village policeman living in a village five miles from where I live. On his day off, when he was in his garden, the telephone rang. The caller, someone in the village, told him that there had been a break-in and that about £5,000 worth of goods had been stolen and asked the police to come. The policeman, because he was off duty, was under no obligation to do anything, but he telephoned to his headquarters in Aldershot, reported that there had been a theft and said that police assistance was required. He then went back to his garden.

Half an hour later the caller rang again to repeat his request and asked where the police were. The policeman again contacted his headquarters in Aldershot and asked why no police had arrived. He was told that there was only one panda car on duty in the entire rural area. The officer at headquarters said "I am afraid that I cannot get the constable on the radio because he is inside a council house attending to a family dispute."

One hour after the crime, the citizen rang again. The policeman changed out of his gardening clothes, put on his uniform, went on his motor cycle to the scene of the burglary and stayed there until police reinforcements arrived. At the end of the affair he reported the matter to his headquarters, as he was in duty bound to do, and stated that he had done three hours' overtime. Not only was he not paid any overtime but he was admonished for having gone along on his motor cycle while off duty and he was warned that if he had been involved in an accident he would not have been covered by insurance.

That is a true story. At the end of relating it, the police officer asked "What am I to do the next time this happens?" I said "What will you do next time?" and he replied "Of course, I shall turn out. I am the village policeman, and it is my duty."

The reason why he could not be paid is that overtime in the Hampshire force is limited to half an hour per man per month. That has been caused by financial cut-backs. When overtime is cut back in other industries, those who want to supplement their earnings because they have to take a loss are free to take an evening or weekend job—moonlighting, it is generally called.

Has not the situation been aggravated by the Government deliberately fiddling Government funds adversely to rural areas in favour of certain large conurbations, plus Wales?

I am making not cheap points but real live points. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the points I am making are cheap, let him stand up and say why.

I was referring not to the hon. Gentleman but to his hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop).

To come back to the question of supplementing reduced pay, workers in other industries can do it but the police are forbidden to do it. This was pointed out by a police constable who showed me an advertisement in a local paper for casual agricultural labour putting up hop wires and poles for the coming season. He would not have been too proud to do it in his off-duty hours to earn a little bit extra, but he is not allowed to—rightly, in my view—nor should he be in a financial position in which he needs to take on casual work to eke out his income. The point was not lost on him that the advertisement offered £1·35 an hour for this casual labour and that his basic hourly rate as a regular constable is £1·33. Somewhere our priorities are very wrong.

Where do we go from here? I believe that the most pressing need is to restore the confidence of our police force and to ensure that the police understand that no Government will stand by and accept that their loyalty and devotion to duty are to go unrewarded. That must be the first priority, because I believe it is generally considered that the morale of our police forces is lower now than it has ever been, at a time when crime is at its highest-ever level.

The Home Secretary can go a long way in restoring morale simply by carrying out his pledge to set up an independent inquiry to examine both the structure of the Police Council and the whole question of police pay and terms of service. I can think of no reason why the Home Secretary has not done that, because it is a gesture that would cost him nothing and would be proof of his good faith. There cannot be a shortage of people of calibre, good will and independent mind who would be prepared to carry out this task quickly and effectively.

Secondly, the Home Secretary must come up with a formula for an increase for the police which, if it does not satisfy them totally—and I think we must accept that—will at least prevent them from feeling, as they do now, that they have been treated worse than any other sector of our society during the past two years.

There must be ways in which that can be brought about, because we have seen how the Government have managed to produce formulae which they have found to be acceptable within their own pay policy. If arrangements could be found whereby the extra allowances for the seamen were not contravening phase 2, and they were taken with firm promises for phase 3, given the Government's good intention surely such a formula can be found for the police.

In this respect I add one note of caution. This is a purely personal view, but I hold it strongly. There has been talk of a special element of pay being awarded as "danger money". I feel that in the long term we should regret such a special payment. It is not impossible that many people will take the view that when the police were suffering assaults in their attempts to uphold the law such sufferings could be described as "that is what the police are paid for".

We all remember the infamous photograph of the policeman being kicked in the face during the riots in Red Lion Square. To acknowledge that we accept that the police are subject to such painful, dangerous and outrageous assaults by "paying" them for such assaults would not, I believe, be a helpful ingredient in the attitude and relationship with the general public that any benevolent police service seeks to achieve—and in which ours excels. That is not to say that physical hazard cannot be included together with other elements as part of the service that we accept from our police officers, and for which we are prepared to pay them, but I do not believe that danger money as a separate element is in essence a good solution.

I hope that by the end of this debate we can hear that the Government have resolved to assure our police forces of their good faith. I hope we can hear that the Home Secretary will delay no longer in setting up an independent inquiry and putting it to work. I hope we can hear that Ministers will spare no effort to devise some formula to bring justice to the police in phase 2 and promise them compensation for the hardship they have already suffered when we come to phase 3. I hope that in return the Police Federation will be prepared to return to the negotiating table, because it will have made its point, and all parties to this dispute, including the Police Federation, will need to show magnanimity and good will to resolve it.

If those four simple aims can come about, I feel that today's motion will have been worth putting on the Order Paper.

Before calling the next hon. Member I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker desires me to remind hon. Members that this debate may continue until 7 o'clock. The matter is in the hands of hon. and right hon. Members, because there is a considerable number of hon. Members who wish to speak.

4.26 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) both on the subject that he chose for today's debate and on the reasonable and eloquent terms in which he proposed the motion.

I understand that the Home Secretary has another important engagement this afternoon and will not be present in the Chamber. I regret that particularly because it means that the Government will have nothing of any importance to say. I have a feeling that if the Government had something important to say this afternoon in reply to the debate the Home Secretary would have been here.

I regret the absence of the Home Secretary because the country is witnessing what is happening to an important element in our society where there has been a considerable loss of morale, a considerable feeling of grievance which many people looking at the position objectively feel is justified.

The position statistically would be shown to be very much worse were it not for a number of factors. The first factor is that although when one looks at the establishment of the police and compares it with the numbers serving in the police forces throughout the country one finds that in many areas the difference between those serving and the establishment strength does not look too great, one of the main reasons for that is that many establishments have not been revised to the degree that they should have been.

In West Mercia, where there has been a considerable shift of population into the area, there has been no increase in the establishment of that force. If one were to bring the establishment up to a sensible and real figure, the present position would show a real deficiency.

What is alarming—and it should be alarming to the Home Secretary and the Government—is that the areas in which recruitment is worst are those where crime is at its worst. It is of little use the Government constantly talking about their intentions to assist the inner city areas, when in nearly all the major inner city areas where crime is prevalent the police force is remarkably under establishment. The duty to soilve the problem lies heavily upon the Government, but there is no indication at the present time that they have tthe will and enthusiasm to solve it.

The other factor which conceals the true position is the very high level of unemployment. If we were living through the traditional full employment pattern which operates in Britain in a post-war era and were treating the police as shabbily as we are now, the loss in numbers of police officers to other industries would be substantial and there would be a marked lack of recruitment.

Therefore, we have the remarkable side of a Labour Government relying to some extent upon their success in creating record post-war unemployment to ensure that the manner in which they have treated the police does not have such detrimental effects as it would normally have had in our post-war society.

Right hon. and hon. Members will know that basically I have been a supporter of this Government and the previous Government, in present economic circumstances, having to pursue an incomes policy. There is some excuse, if an incomes policy is introduced in an emergency and sterling crisis, for the first phase of the policy to be unfair and unreasonable and to create all sorts of mistakes and hardships. If the Government then decide to continue with an incomes policy for a second year, they have plenty of time to consider the areas where they—the Government—have a measure of responsibility. They must consider the Armed Services, the health services, the country's key industries and, above almost everything else, perhaps, with the exception of the Armed Services, the police forces and law and order.

By having gone through phase 1 and a year later agreeing to a phase 2 that could not and would not deal with the genuine grievances of the police, the Government have much to answer for, and they must be found guilty of doing much damage to the police.

The Government appear to be approaching a phase 3 of the incomes policy, and the fact that they have not made abundantly clear the way in which they intend to deal with a vital sector—the police—is a further criticism of their lack of recognition of the gravity of the problem.

Morale in the police forces is very low. In spite of high unemployment elsewhere, we are losing some of our best officers. We are in a period, not just of high crime, but when crime amongst the younger element in society is at a staggering peak. Teenage crime in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow is at such levels that we must have the full establishment in the police forces in the areas concerned and have police of very high calibre and quality.

I deeply regret that the Government have lingered as they have over this issue and that the absence of the Home Secretary today indicates that they will linger a little longer.

4.33 p.m.

There can be no doubt about the extent and strength of the discontent which exists amongst many members of police forces. For policemen in places often far removed from industrial disputes such as my own county of Northumberland, including policemen in rural areas, to take part in ballots and to register votes to the effect that they would be prepared to consider strike action and would like the power to do so indicates a state of feeling that should not exist in police forces. This is action taken by policemen who have no wish to strike and who would not have wished to create a situation which allowed them to do so if they had not felt deeply that they have been treated badly and have not received their fair due.

In a situation where feelings are runing so high, it is very important to be absolutely clear about the facts and that everybody concerned is in a position to know them. I am not sure that that is the case so far. That is why I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) for bringing this subject before the House today. That is also why I support his demand for an inquiry into future procedures surrounding police pay. However, I believe that a more impartial and objective inquiry into the present situation, as well as the future position, is called for.

There are so many confusions. The Police Council has stated that the average weekly pay of a police constable is £80. The Police Federation has stated that the average weekly pay is £70. The position is further complicated because some insist on talking about net, take-home pay, whereas others talk about gross pay. The Police Council has stated that the average weekly pay of all ranks from constable to chief inspector is £90 a week. The Police Federation says that the average weekly pay of those ranks is £75 a week. Which of those is correct? Much confusion exists. The situation has been aggravated by the reduction in overtime which has occurred throughout the country. This has had a marked effect, although more on uniformed men than on detectives.

About one thing there is no doubt. In 1974, police pay had fallen substantially below average industrial earnings. The working party which then considered the matter reached the conclusion that a catching-up operation should take place. Before it was implemented, the first phase of the pay policy limiting increases to £6 a week came into effect. The policy pay award was specifically exempted from the White Paper. It is around the implications of this that the whole current issue centres.

The Home Office argument is that, instead of their being limited to £6 a week, police officers were given a very much larger rise. The Police Federation's case is that police officers were entitled to the rise as a catching-up operation and that they should have been given the £6 a week in addition and, after that, an award under phase 2.

Was anything agreed at that time? That is surely a crucial question. Was anything said by the Home Office, publicly or privately, which could have led the Police Federation properly to conclude that police officers were not entitled to an increase of £6 a week? Or rather, was the Federation entitled to assume that it could claim on behalf of police officers a £6 a week increase in addition to the catching-up amount?

That fact should be brought out. If it cannot be brought out today, it will strengthen the case for an impartial inquiry. It is clear that the leaders of the Police Federation have genuinely proceeded to argue on the assumption that they were entitled to make the £6 a week claim and that such a claim was not affected and should not have been affected by the effects of the working party's findings.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a very large number of police authorities appropriated the £6 to police pay?

I am aware of that. It underlines the confusion which arises amongst people who are well familiar with police negotiations and who would be expected to know all there was to know. It leads one to suppose that there was no understanding, no suggestion, nothing that the Police Federation should have taken into account in its discussions with the Government at the time.

The onus is on the Government to say whether they came to any agreement which would limit the powers of the Police Federation to negotiate under stage 1. If not, the case of the Police Federation seems to me to be very well backed and strengthened.

The suggestion of the Home Office is that the whole matter can be adequately dealt with by generous negotiation under phase 3. As we do not know what stage 3 of the pay policy will involve, it is rather difficult to ask the police to rest their faith in that statement and at the same time to give up a principle. The onus is on the Government to state reasons why the police should be obliged to do that. What happened in 1975 is obviously important.

To sum up the position as I see it, first there is no doubt about the deep sense of grievance and about the pressure which the leadership of the Police Federation is under from its members to get the matter resolved. It is based on a feeling that they have been cheated of what they should have. It is compounded by the reduction in overtime. Of course, the fact that no stage 2 increase is in the pockets of individual policemen because of the line the Federation has felt it necessary to take adds further to the sense of grievance and the practical difficulties of ordinary policemen and their families.

Clearly, there is real doubt—"disagreement" would be a better word—about what was said or agreed in 1975, This is at the centre of the issue.

There is a feeling among the police that to wait until stage 3 would be to give up a principle and to risk losing out financially. The Government are asking a lot if they are expecting the police to act on that assumption. There is great danger of the tradition of loyalty and service within the police being shaken, and that tradition is something that the Government, the official side and the Police Federation's negotiators must all seek to defend by avoiding anything misleading. For these reasons, it is particularly important to get the facts of the situation clear.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the Home Office being misleading. Where has it ever been alleged, and where has the hon. Gentleman his authority for saying so, that the Police Federation was misled by some assurance, given at the time of the 1974 negotiations, that the police would ultimately get the £6 in the following year?

The hon. Gentleman is no doubt in a better position to know what the Home Office thought at that time. There is no doubt of what the Police Federation thinks. It thinks that it was free, having dealt with the earlier falling back in the position of the police, to proceed under stage I of the pay policy. The hon. Gentleman may argue that it was not free to think that that was so, but it is claimed that the Police Federation had no reason to believe that it would not be able to proceed under stage 1. If I am mistaken in this supposition, the Government should say so.

I am not saying that the Police Federation has not taken that view from an early stage in the negotiations for the £6 limit. It did take that view. But where has it ever claimed that it was told that, in addition to the 30 per cent. increase, the police would in the subsequent year be entitled to claim £6 a week? Where and when was that assurance given?

Why should the Police Federation have had to receive any such assurance to adopt that negotiating stance? In the discussions in the previous years it had assumed, as everyone did, that the proceedings of the working party were unrelated to stage 1 of the pay policy. It was the Government who, by the dating of the pay policy, found themselves in the position that the working party report was caught in the dated period. The onus is on the Government to give a reason why the Police Federation should not have assumed that it was entitled to make a claim for the police for the £6 a week. That was the Police Federation's reasonable assumption.

I ask the Government to do their best to clear up this part of the situation. It does no service to the police to have working police officers thinking that they have been cheated and deprived of something to which they are entitled. If there was no agreement, or if there is anything which undermines the police claim, let us get it clear now, but so far nothing seems to have emerged to undermine it.

What I say now is in no way directed to the hon. Member for Petersfield, whose remarks were directed towards finding a solution to the dispute. There will be danger if we ever try to make this matter into a party issue, and I hope that we can avoid doing so. All Governments run the risk of disagreement with the Police Federation, and all Opposition parties would like to be seen to be the policeman's only friend. But it is in the interests of all of us that the police should continue to enjoy their untarnished reputation as impartial upholders of law and order under any Government that democracy produces and that they should be ready to serve the elected authorities, whoever they may be. We sometimes forget that and we forget it at our peril.

4.43 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) on initiating the debate. I had thought for a moment that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) would be called ahead of me. I do not always agree with him, but I respect his sincerity. It is unfortunate that there are not many hon. Members behind the Under-Secretary of State to support her. I am sure that that will be noted in the places where it matters. The Chair has appealed to those hon. Members who are called in the debate to make reasonably short speeches, and I shall attempt to keep mine brief.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield that morale in the police force is perhaps at an all-time low. There are great feelings of bitterness amongst officers at the inept way in which the Home Office and the former Police Council have handled the issue of police pay. My hon. Friend related some of the history of the matter.

In 1974 the Police Council set up a working party on police pay. The outcome, published in March 1975, was that there should be an award averaging £10 a week for all between the ranks of constable and chief inspector. Here we come to the crunch in the present difficulties. It was between the negotiation of this award, on 4th June 1975, and its starting date of 1st September 1975 that the Government instituted phase 1 of the current incomes policy, which limited wage increases to £6 a week with effect from 1st August 1975.

The police at the time believed that the £10 award was to bring them into line and to correct the way in which police pay had fallen below average industrial earnings over the previous years. Therefore, it was with a great deal of astonishment that the police found that their application for £6 a week rise under phase 1 was rejected completely out of hand and they were told bluntly that the £10 award that they had received was a special concession and they were not entitled to any more. I believe it is from that situation that the present bitterness has arisen, because the police are comparing their plight with what has happened to other groups in the public sector. For example, the mine-workers, the power workers, railwaymen and teachers all received substantial increases during 1974 and 1975 but also got the £6 a week under phase 1.

So the dispute has continued. In March last the Police Federation went to see the Prime Minister. I think that it hoped for some understanding from him, because it is not so many years ago that he was political adviser to the Federation. He held that position for some years. One would have assumed, therefore, that he would know a great deal about the problems of the police. If the reports about it are correct, the outcome of the meeting was that he said we had the best police force in the world but that its members could not insulate themselves from the national economy.

It should be made clear that the police are not asking for privileged treatment. They are only asking for fairness compared with other workers. We have to cast our minds back to the 1960s. The Willink Commission concluded that the average pay of a police constable should be about 4 per cent. above the then average earnings of an adult male in industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield mentioned that by 1974 the ratio had fallen, so that the average pay of a constable was about 83 per cent. of average male industrial earnings. Then the award that the police got brought it up to 93 per cent. But by October 1976, the ratio was back down to 82 per cent.

I have had examples in my area of the take-home pay that policemen receive. A policeman aged 26 with two children under school age and just under two years' service has a take-home pay of £144·33 per calendar month. A policeman who has been in the force for 15 years, four of them as a sergeant, takes home £219 per calendar month. We have to remember, too, that police officers have special conditions of service. They work unsocial hours. They do shift work. All this has an effect on their family life. They are not allowed to do another job in order to augment their income—"moonlighting", as it is called. If they are caught doing so, they are immediately put on a disciplinary charge. They must not engage in any activities that might prejudice their impartial performance of their duties. They must play no part in politics.

On 5th May my wife was elected as a Conservative to a county council. There was nothing unusual in that—who was not elected that day as a Conservative? She told me that when she was out canvassing she met a number of policemen and their wives, and was impressed by the incredible bitterness that they felt at the way in which they had been treated.

One of the most enthusiastic people canvassed by my wife left her in no doubt that he would vote for her. She asked him to put a poster in his window but he apologised and said that as he was a police officer he was not allowed to have political views.

The police are constantly on standby duty—they always have to be available should the need arise. This obviously must cause disruption to their family lives. All uniformed officers in Manchester have had their next Sunday's leave stopped. The man who, having been told that he was off next Sunday, intended to take his family away for the day now has to disappoint them and go on duty because Manchester United is returning to Old Trafford—hopefully with the FA Cup—and all policemen must be on duty to look after the crowds that will assemble. It is a combination of social factors and conditions of service that make a policeman's position unique.

No one can doubt the danger of the policeman's job. Last year there were 12,000 violent assaults against policemen, many inflicting serious injury and disfigurement.

The difficulties that police officers face in the course of their duty are underlined by the figures showing the enormous increase in crime. In 1976 there were more than 2 million indictable crimes, compared with 500,000 in 1960 and 250,000 in 1939. No one doubts that the police have played their part in the battle against crime.

I am particularly concerned about the growing militancy among policemen in this country. Recently eight of the country's 43 police forces balloted their members on the right to strike. They voted 3 to 1 in favour, which is a drastic switch from as recently as 1973, when Dr. Reiner, lecturer in sociology at Bristol University, conducted research on police attitudes. At that stage only 20 per cent. of uniformed constables supported the right to strike. Greater militancy reflects the view that in the absence of the right to strike police are very much in the lap of the authorities.

I hope that the day will never come when the police will go on strike. That would be regretted by practically everybody—though there may be one or two exceptions. The Lord President, for example, has promised legislation next Session to give Post Office workers the unfettered legal right to go on strike. What would his opinion be if police officers went on strike in protest against his Government's incomes policy?

The consequences of the present impasse on police pay are several. Recruitment has dropped, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) pointed out. Unemployment in this country is particularly high, and at a time of high unemployment one would suppose that a lot of people would be anxious to join the police force. But recruits of the right calibre are not coming forward in the right numbers Also, there is the serious problem of wastage. This is not a question of young men and women going into the police force, staying a short time and deciding they do not like it; the wastage goes right across the line. Men of considerable service are now leaving the police force purely and simply because they can earn more and can get better conditions in other jobs.

Job satisfaction is vitally important, but it does not pay the rent, the mortgage or the food bill. It is necessary, if law and order in this country are to be maintained, to have a strong and contented police force. I hope that when the Under-Secretary replies she will give an undertaking that the Government will look sympathetically at police pay.

I reiterate that the police are not attempting to break the incomes policy. They want the same entitlement under phases 1 and 2 as has been given to other groups of workers.

4.56 p.m.

On many occasions I have met deputations from the police and sometimes I have not entirely agreed with them. Sometimes they have pressed me for the re-establishment of capital punishment or, in some individual cases, corporal punishment as well. On those occasions I have said openly, honestly, bluntly and fairly that I must agree to disagree with them. But I have also met deputations on police pay, and I have to tell my Front Bench quite bluntly that I feel that the police have a very good case.

I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that it would be regrettable if there were an attempt to make this a political argument. Our police, like everyone else, vote for differing political parties. I remember in one General Election campaign I jumped into my car and dashed out into a road. A police car followed me and stopped me. I did not notice whether I was speeding, but I thought that the incident would be all over the Liverpool papers the next day. Instead, the policeman got out of his car and asked me whether I had any posters so that his wife could put some up in her window.

Maybe not, but they could then. That is an indication that not all our policemen adhere to the Conservative Party or any other party. It is important to look at the question of police pay on a strictly industrial basis.

I took note of the statements by the Prime Minister's office following the meeting with the Police Federation. That statement said that the police could not insulate themselves from the national economy and that any settlement would have to be within phase 2, which had been accepted already by almost 5 million workers. That is absolutely correct. The only thing is that the Police Federation is not a member of the TUC and it had no voice—by vote or otherwise—at the Trade Union Congress on whether the incomes policy should be accepted. Therefore, as the Police Federation does not have a voice in determining policy it is a bit difficult to tell it that, because 5 million organised workers—and it is now more like 11 million—in the trade union movement have accepted the pay policy, the Federation must as well.

Many younger policemen, apart from arguing for the right to strike, have argued for the right to affiliate with the TUC. Personally, I would not object to that. I think that it would be very good and useful. As with certain Civil Service unions, it would not mean adherence to a party or paying the political levy. This desire will grow—there is no question about that.

Anyone who talks to the police at grass roots level will know that there is a very strong feeling about pay and conditions. They cannot tolerate the situation much longer without taking some positive industrial action. We must recognise this feeling. I am not suggesting for one moment that any section should go beyond what has been agreed by the trade union movement, but I feel that the police have an important case, and I ask my hon. Friend to consider their problems very carefully. I do not go quite all the way with the motion, but I agree that the matter must be settled as quickly and as fairly as possible.

The wording is

"to set up without delay an independent inquiry into the Police Council"
and so on. I am not certain whether that would be right or wrong, and I am open to conviction either way. But I agree that it is necessary to settle the current dispute fairly and quickly. I totally endorse that part of the motion and the sentiments contained in that part of it.

I do not intend to make a long speech but I should like to refer to something that was said by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). There is no doubt that in areas of high unemployment crime has increased. There is no doubt that crime in the inner cities has increased, particularly among young people, because they have no jobs, there is nothing for them to do, and they have not the income they ought to be having. In any case, there is very little for people living in that sort of cultural desert. It is a major problem and it will not be answered purely by strengthening the police force. There is a great deal more than that to be done. I found the section of the right hon. Gentleman's book dealing with the inner cities and so on a very interesting and very useful contribution to the discussion of the problem of the inner cities. I mentioned it in the House on Friday. I hope this does not make him blush, coming from me.

We have the problem of increasing crime and vandalism on the council estates. We go to the chief constable or to the local people concerned and ask for the number of patrols to be increased. But then there are complaints from constituents living in the area, who say that some of their children are being picked up unnecessarily. There is pressure, therefore, from both sides, and that is the difficulty with which we are faced. We have to try to eliminate the need for extra patrols, and that means eliminating the growth in vandalism and petty crime—sometimes it is rather serious crime—in these areas.

I believe that unless and until this issue is settled, there will be a growth of militancy among policemen. It is perfectly understandable. They are ordinary flesh and bone, the same as anyone else. If they see other workers fighting for their rights in an organised industrial way, it is natural that the police should want to follow the same pattern. There were police strikes in this country at the end of the First World War. It was a very serious business while it lasted and it could well be that unless we settle this matter we shall be moving very quickly into a similar situation.

I urge the Government to have another look at the matter. I know that we are tied by the difficult problem of phase 1, phase 2 and phase 3, but I feel that the police have a case, as have many other sections of workers—it is not just the police. Nevertheless, it would be remiss of me, having often urged support for the claims of other workers, not to say that I believe that the police, too, have a good case, particularly in relation to their pay and conditions.

5.5 p.m.

:I was very glad that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) brought the police into the context of the various places in which they find themselves, for I also believe that their work would be lightened and made easier if we were able to deal with certain of the problems that cause them so much difficulty. I refer to the problems of violence and the abuse of alcohol which are particularly noticeable in certain areas in Scotland. I believe that if we find remedies for these problems we shall certainly do something to help the police in their duties.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that there was always a tendency for parties in opposition to want to parade themselves as the policeman's best friend. Since I learned to drive a motor car my great ambition has been that the policeman should be my best friend.

I took the opportunity, a couple of hours ago, to speak to my own chief constable. Almost before I had finished saying why I wanted to have a word with him, he said "I can tell you of a case in my force where a constable with 13 years' service is leaving the force next month in order to take up a job on a farm." This constable has an excellent record of service, and from his years of service is obviously half way towards his pension, yet he has decided to leave the force at this point because in his new job he will find better conditions of employment and, in his opinion, more in his pay packet at the end of the week.

When I was a boy it was certainly not true that policemen moved out of the force into farm work because they could find better conditions there. But it is happening today, and we are all bound to ask ourselves the reason for these changes.

It is not happening just in the cities. After all, the force in Dumfries and Galloway is largely a rural one, and one would think that police constables would be happier with their lot there than they would be in the large cities, yet here we have a case in a rural force that has been drawn to my notice today.

I know from personal experience in watching the police at their work that it involves personal stress and strain. They are often involved in danger. Since I became a Member of this House what has struck me most in having to deal with police cases is their immense patience with the general public, even when the general public is being at its most unhelpful. In situations in which I should certainly be very much inclined to lose my temper, they do not appear to do so. They require the support not merely of this House but of society, so that their morale may be built up to and maintained at a high level.

One of the elements in building up police morale must in these days be their salaries. I just managed to scrape through higher mathematics many years ago and do not propose to go into the realm of statistics, because when I do so I always feel that my feet will very rapidly slip into the morass of figures and that I shall be fished up by some kind Minister who perhaps has a better statistician than myself behind him. But it seems to me that the police have a very strong case. I am not suggesting that they should be considered as an exception to the rules applying at the moment, but I feel that they have a case that should be reconsidered.

It will be known to hon. Members that at the moment there are differences in the moods of the police forces as between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Police Federation has not left the Police Council, and has continued talking. This seems to me to be a sensible and level-headed attitude to take.

I must add at once that I must not be understood to be criticising the other Federation, because I do not know about the conditions under which its members work. Other hon. Members will put forward its case, and many hon. Members have already done so this afternoon. I hope that the Government will not simply assume that because the Scottish Police Federation has not yet become so militant they can therefore ignore or neglect the Scottish police. It may indeed be that it is because the Scottish Police Federation is less militant than the others—

Does the hon. Member agree that recent reports show that there is definitely an increasing number of militants in the Scottish police force?

I thank the hon. Member for reminding me of that. Certainly the Government have no reason for complacence on this subject.

When the Government reach a solution they will have the backing of my party in implementing it. I ask them to seek a solution as rapidly as they reasonably can, because we, as a society, ought to be willing to pay for a good and efficient police force.

5.11 p.m.

Many police officers, if they had the doubtful pleasure of being in the House this afternoon, would be struck by the contrast between a House that was packed an hour or so ago, when we were debating who said what at a lobby briefing about the ambassador to Washington, and the number of hon. Members present at this debate which goes to the heart of the maintenance of law and order in our country and the state of morale of our police. Comparatively speaking, the House is now empty. I am reminded of last Friday evening, when the Press was rightly filled with the news about the porn squad of Scotland Yard. On the same evening there was a meeting of a large number of police wives from Birmingham who were concerned with the deeper long-term question of the pay, morale and service of police officers. That meeting received no attention in the national Press, whereas what happened to Commander Virgo was front page news. There is a contrast in the ways in which we approach police matters. The mood of the police now is one of deep and, I fear, dangerous frustration. There is great anger, and among some officers there is despair. These sentiments have arisen because the police service is sick and tired of being taken for granted and of being asked to do one of society's most important, difficult and dangerous jobs without receiving the support that it deserves. I regret that the police have lost confidence in both the will and ability of Ministers to meet their personal and operational requirements.

I shall stick to the facts. This is an emotional subject, but the facts are more important. The police have had no pay increases since September 1975. Since then, most people have had the £6 pay increase of phase 1 and the £2·50 to £4 or 5 per cent. increase of phase 2. There has also been a wages drift, which has produced an upward movement in salaries of about 13 per cent. At the same time social security and unemployment benefits have risen so that, in many cases, they now exceed the take home pay of many lower paid police constables. Various consequences have arisen from all this for the police.

The police have fallen a long way behind other skilled and semi-skilled occupations, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). On average, a police officer now receives four-fifths of the take home pay of the average skilled or semi-skilled worker in this country. In fairness, averages contain many variations. At the upper end the overworked Metropolitan CID man may have a take-home pay that runs into three figures weekly, but at the other end of the scale there are large numbers of constables whose take-home pay is less than £40 a week. That is not enough. Overall, there is no doubt that the police are underpaid.

Another consequence is that in many cases the take-home pay of police officers has fallen below the level of social security and unemployment benefits. I can give the Minister examples, and I hope that she will refer to them in her reply later. One comes from Northamptonshire Police, where an officer who was sent to arrest a man for fraudulently claiming unemployment benefit sent me figures giving his income and that of the man receiving unemployment benefit. Quite apart from the fraud, the amount of money that this man was legitimately obtaining through unemployment and other benefits was £44·75 a week, to maintain himself, his wife, baby and small child. In addition, the normal rent of his council house was rebated during the period of his unemployment. The police officer—a 20 year detective constable—sent me his pay slips. His income was roughly £40 per month less than that which the man he had been sent out to arrest could legitimately obtain from unemployment benefit and social security. The House will not be surprised to hear that this officer wrote in the concluding paragraph of his letter:
"I for one have enjoyed the police service, but when I find that people defrauding the State can legitimately draw £10 per week in hard cash more than I earn, then I wonder what the police service is coming to. I shall leave it a disillusioned man."
There are many other examples, with which I shall not weary the House now. I shall merely record that there are young constables who are today receiving less for working than they could obtain on the dole or if they made application for social security benefits. That is not good enough.

While police pay is both relatively and absolutely slipping, police work is daily becoming more demanding, difficult and dangerous. In many occupations it would be possible to claim that such changes entitle a worker to more pay because his work is becoming harder and his productivity increasing. Police work is becoming more demanding because of the rise in crime. It has also become more difficult because of the greater complexity of such matters as race relations, tourism and, above all, the legislation that this House constantly imposes and that the police must carry out.

Police work too has become more dangerous. The number of police officers hurt at work is rising rapidly. The risks that officers must take are also increasing all the time. So the pressures and hazards are increasing while the rewards of the police are declining. That is an absurd arrangement of priorities.

The police are in a unique position. They are unique because the House has made them so. Legislation places them under discipline and requires them to live and work wherever and whenever they are told. Many of their civil rights have also been removed. Police officers may not join a union, withdraw their labour, take in lodgers or supplement their incomes by doing part-time work. The House has decided those things.

We must also remember that the police have been excluded, by decision of the House, from the benefits of industrial legislation. The other day the Secretary of State for Employment said, in reply to a parliamentary Question from me:
"The Acts from which the police service is totally excluded are the Employment Protection Act 1975, the Contracts of Employment Act 1972, the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974, and, except for Chief Constables, the Redundancy Payments Act 1965.
In addition, they are excluded from the main provisions of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, in so far as these relate to employees."—[Official Report, 24th March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 623.]
There are good reasons why the police should be excluded, by the decision of this House, from major legislation. There are good reasons why the police should be placed under discipline and other requirements that are not asked of other occupations. But the Government ought not to suggest that the police are unique when it comes to denying their rights but not unique when they ask for some consideration on pay and conditions of service. That is an intolerable proposition, with which the House ought not to agree.

The police are now voting with their feet. During the period of high unemployment, recruitment has been buoyant and some forces have shown steady increases—no doubt the Minister will trot out some figures. But in the last six months there has been a change. For the first time in some years the number of policemen leaving has equalled, and may soon exceed, the numbers being employed—and, of course, it is the quality policemen who are leaving and, at best, young recruits who are joining.

My hon. Friend knows a great deal about these matters and studies Home Office returns, as I do. Is he aware that even those figures, which show apparently healthy numbers in relation to establishment are more often than not a reflection of the increased recruitment of women?

My hon. Friend is right. However, I believe that policewomen fill a valuable rôle.

What is the solution? We must have an early settlement of a dispute that has dragged on disgracefully in a manner that the House would not have tolerated in the case of any other occupation. After attending nearly all the meetings with the Home Secretary, his officials and the Prime Minister, there have been times when I have wondered whether the Government really wanted a solution at all, or whether they find it convenient that the police should be in such a state of such despair that they may be forced to move into the drastic choice referred to by the hon. Member for Liverpool. Walton (Mr. Heffer), namely, joining the TUC. I am not entirely satisfied that all members of the Cabinet would dissociate themselves from that view, although I am sure that the Home Secretary, if he can, will try to avoid it.

We nearly reached a solution the other day. It was based on a kitty system, under which the money that it had been proposed to offer to the police would be put in a pot and distributed equally among the ranks. It was also suggested that there should be a number of fringe benefits that would not cost substantial sums, plus commitments in respect of phase 3.

I was optimistic at the time that this solution would stick, and the Home Office shared that view. I regret that when the Home Office approached the Department of Employment there were consultations with the TUC and the solution was vetoed. That should never have happened. We are again in complete deadlock.

I have tried hard to understand, but I cannot, why the Government are being so stubborn. They are at the fag-end of phase 2. If we were at the beginning of phase 2 and the Government were trying to hold the line so that large numbers of other workers would not break through, and if that policy had a year to run, I could understand their attitude, but that is not the position. We are at the fag-end of phase 2, so holding the line against the police safeguards nothing for the Government. Phase 2 is virtually out. It is a mistake for the Government to stand stubbornly on it.

I find what my hon. Friend has said about TUC interference most sinister. Is he or any other of my hon. Friends prepared to accept the TUC having a veto over pay negotiations for public services where it has no responsibility? This is not the first time that I have heard about this sort of thing. I have been urging the Government to do something about the soldiers' allowance in Ulster, and I understand that this has also received a negative from the TUC. How far is the Minister prepared to go down the road of allowing the TUC a power of veto when it has no responsibility for the negotiations concerned?

I would rather not pursue that matter in detail. The TUC was a party, with the Government, to the social contract and to phases 1 and 2, and it is not altogether unreasonable that the Government should have consulted it about this matter, as they do about others. I merely record my regret that a solution that was within the grasp of all concerned was allowed to disappear into the sand.

I wish to conclude with some practical suggestions. Where there is a will there is a way, and it is will that has been lacking in the Government. There could be a solution along the following lines: the Government should top up their fag-end offer in phase 2 with a number of fringe benefits and add some specific and generous commitments in respect of phase 3, bringing police pay back to the Willinck formula.

On the fringe benefits, they could do something about pensions. There is no earthly reason why the police should pay 7 per cent. of their income for pension benefits when teachers and others pay only 6 per cent. The Government could improve the annual leave for police officers. Many policemen with less than 10 years' service have the same annual leave as did policemen in 1918. The Government have accepted these points, but cannot bring themselves to introduce them now.

For phase 3, I urge Home Office Ministers to put their minds to the notion of standby duty. Police officers are, uniquely, expected to remain available and fit for duty while they are at home, and there should be some compensation for that obligation. There should also be some consideration in the general formula for the extremely hazardous duties that the police now undertake. A hazardous duties allowance should apply across the board.

If the Government seize these possibilities a solution can be achieved. If they do not, it is unlikely that the Police Federation at its national conference on 25th May will be able to avoid large majorities in favour of the right to strike and perhaps, though not so certainly, for affiliation with the TUC.

I could not support either proposition. I could not support the right to strike, because the police are unique and the withdrawal of their labour would be a catastrophe for this country. Nor could I support the police becoming affiliated to a politically-oriented organisation. These are matters of judgment, and I do not expect hon. Members on the Government Benches to agree with me any more than they would expect me to agree with them. But I believe that it would be wrong for the police service to go down either of these potentially dangerous roads.

The choice lies with the Government. They have come close to driving the most efficient, dedicated and loyal police service in the world into a state of despair and near revolt. The Government owe it to the police service and the country to resolve this matter quickly.

5.30 p.m.

I make it plain that I speak only as Chairman of the Home Affairs Group of the Labour Party. A remark made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) may have led to a belief that I have some special knowledge of the negotiations that took place in 1975 because at that time I was a Home Office Minister. May I eschew that immediately? It was never my responsibility to look after the police. I had no special knowledge of what went on at that time, save and except the knowledge which is now fairly common to the country as a whole.

The reason that certain words were placed in the eighth paragraph of the White Paper about the transitional provisions and the promise that agreements that were to be implemented before 1st September 1975 would be honoured was that considerable action was taken by the Home Secretary of the day and the appropriate Minister to preserve the agreement that had been made on police pay. That was a considerable concession.

The 30 per cent. agreement at that time could, and by the normal process of negotiation would, have been annulled by the White Paper proposals. Indeed, some who came after 1st September had equally had negotiations completed less that entitlement. I am thinking of the university teachers, for example, who felt the same sense of grievance as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has disclosed about the police. They felt an even greater sense of grievance because they, too, were caught by the subsequent stage of the pay policy and suffered an irreversible change in their standard of living that could not be made up. They did not have the advantage of having a Home Secretary to fight for the interests of the profession and to see them through to the eighth paragraph of the White Paper.

If the Home Office is now taking the view that that concession was of such a nature that it transcended the first phase of the pay policy, I hope that the police, not perhaps led by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who always seems to have a partisan interest in the advice that he gives the Police Federation, will take a dispassionate view and will recognise the considerable concessions that was won for them at that stage. It may not be such an injustice that they were deprived of a claim under the first phase of pay policy.

The hon. Gentleman makes that statement, but will he, or his hon. Friend the Minister, answer the question posed by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)? If the Home Office took that view at that time, was it not in duty bound to communicate that view to the police? If it did so, why have we not heard about it?

I share the hon. Gentleman's appreciation of the efforts of the then Home Secretary, Mr. Roy Jenkins, to ensure that the police rise was not stopped by the closing of the door by means of the White Paper. I had many discussions with the Home Secretary at that time and I appreciate what he did. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that police pay at that time was the result of a restructuring exercise that sought to remedy pay injustices that reached back over many years. It was the result of an agreement following an independent examination.

I understand that perfectly. I accept that it was a necessary agreement to make in the situation of the time, provided there was no particular outside interest, such as the introduction of a new pay policy. The hon. Gentleman has taken up the point of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, but it is true that all workers who were negotiating pay increases in the first year of pay policy were making up for the year that lay behind. In that sense is can be argued that the 30 per cent. was part of the making-up for that period. All I am saying is that that is a perfectly reputable argument and one that has been taken by the Home Office since these events took place.

I turn to the argument of the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). I am told, and I accept, that no assurance was ever given to the Police Federation at the time that the £6 limit would not be subsumed by the 30 per cent. increase. In fact, no assurance was ever made, because it was assumed—perhaps it was not assumed openly but it certainly was assumed—that it was to transcend the £6 limit. The argument that I would use is that even now, with the Police Federation being free with suggestions that it has been misled by the Home Office, no one has ever pointed to any documented promise that the £6 limit was capable of being negotiated after the introduction of the 30 per cent. increase.

There is a question of interpretation, but no question of bad practice or false promises. The interpretation of the Police Federation is that the 30 per cent. was a catching-up exercise to be implemented before the introduction of phase 1. It says that the transitional provisions were to allow it to be introduced by any agreement up to 1st September. It says that they were to allow the police to have their 30 per cent. and that then they were to go into phase 1.

The view taken by the Home Office is to the contrary. The Home Office says that because the special concession was made for the police, giving them an increase in the wage negotiation period of 1975–76 that was much in excess of most other workers, the 30 per cent. was to subsume phase 1. That is a perfectly reputable argument.

When I come to argue the merits of the case, I am in the position of respecting, along with every other hon. Member, the work that is done by the police. However, there is no unique quality in the Opposition's praise and regard for the police, which extends to all hon. Members. It does the police service no good to pretend that in some way it can be the bone of partisan conflict.

I am not going to say that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have noticed the great care with which the Conservative Party, for which I certainly take responsibility as I am its spokesman on this subject, has avoided any question of making this subject a party political issue. That has been avoided throughout the debate. We have exhibited considerable restraint. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that.

I acquit the right hon. Gentleman of taking a partisan approach, but I do not acquit some members of his party of taking that course.

What I do not acquit is the sense in which some hon. Members present the argument, as if the Government are resistant to the claim made by the police for some partisan position of their own. There was an element of that approach in the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds.

I am seeking to suggest that it does no credit to the police to take that sort of attitude. There is a real difficulty. I have not the least doubt that the Home Secretary is anxious to give the Police Federation a settlement that it will regard as reasonable and just. Almost any Home Secretary would be in that position. The question is whether the settlement can be reconciled with the interests of others to whom the Government still have to be fair.

The hon. Member for Petersfield expressed amazement at a suggestion made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that the TUC has in some way vetoed a possible negotiation. I am bound to say that I do not always accept everything that falls from the lips of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds about private negotiations as being completely the case. I should have to hear the attitude of everyone else who was in those discussions. Even if it were true, I do not find it as surprising as the hon. Member for Petersfield. That is because it is a voluntary pay policy. It has been accepted and implemented by the vast majority of workers and policed throughout by the TUC. It is not policed by Government Departments but almost entirely by the TUC.

There was a time in the course of the negotiations with the seamen when the National Union of Seamen and the Shipping Federation could have come to an agreement in just the same way as the parties to this dispute. However, that was vetoed by the TUC because it would have been unfair to other workers who had accepted certain restrictions. Perhaps it is right to say that the TUC vetoed this one—but it was vetoed for the same reason. That is part of the difficulty. I do not accept that the police are so unique that they can transcend pay policy altogether.

Many groups of workers have suffered some injustice and all have suffered a decline in their standards of living as a result of pay policy. Earlier I mentioned university teachers, but I know from representations, that Methodist ministers have also suffered. They did not get the £6 pay increase, because their pay cycle was out of phase with the cycle of voluntary pay policy. I am sure that other groups of workers are also in that position. Therefore, it cannot be right for the police—however valuable their services to the country—to try to put pressure on the Government, the TUC and the House to agree that they should be in a privileged position compared to other workers. Many other workers have difficult and dangerous jobs. The Government must hold a balance between the two.

If the police negotiating year had begun at the same time as the negotiating year for most other groups of workers and if the police had not been in phase with phase 1, would anyone have said that they should have had any more than £6? Is there anyone who would have said, when they got into the second stage, that they should have had any more than 5 per cent. or £4? Most people would agree that they should not be privileged under those circumstances. The only question is whether it can be argued that because of the interpretation of paragraph 8 of the pay policy on the first phase, that they are entitled, not only to 30 per cent. but to the £6 and subsequently to the 5 per cent. or £4. That is the area of dispute.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that a substantial number of police authorities set aside the £6 to pay the police. That might have been a proper provision. However, one of the real causes of the argument is that the Police Council and the employers' representatives on the Council took the view that the police were not entitled to the £6 which they were claiming. Because of that dispute the Police Federation withdrew from the Police Council. The other members of the Council are mainly the local authorities in the guise of police employers.

It cannot be argued that most local authorities presumed that they would have to pay the £6, although some of them might have put the money aside. In the Council, the local authorities took the view that the Government's interpretation of the £6 commitment was right and that they would not have to pay the £6 in addition to the 30 per cent. The Federation withdrew, because they did not accept that argument.

The action of the Federation was unwise. There is much to be said for the argument used by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister that the Federation should go back to the Council and renegotiate in that context.

The only piece of evidence to which I am privy—and perhaps it is internal—is that one of the difficulties that arose was that the Home Secretary was acting as broker between the local authorities and the Council. The local authorities said that this was unacceptable and a breach of the Police Act. That was because the statutory body was the Council and the local authorities were having their rôle abrogated by the Home Secretary. In those circumstances the Home Secretary was in a difficulty. The authorities, as the employers, did not accept that the Home Secretary should decide this matter. In those circumstances it was obvious that there must be negotiations between the Federation and the local authorities. They could only take place within the Council.

I advise the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds to use his influence with the Federation to take them back in to the Council. The negotiation can come to fruition only within the context of the Council. Perhaps something could be done to resurrect the claim for at least £4 or 5 per cent. which the Home Secretary and the local authorities would be willing to accept.

It is absurd that this should have dragged on since December 1975 without any payments to the police. There is a 5 per cent. or £4 rise waiting for them if they will only negotiate an interim or transitional claim. No one will argue that that means that they have abrogated their claim for £6. I understand why police wives feel that some money in the pay packet is better than money in the bush—even though the case is argued in dulcet terms by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds.

The hon. Member has punctuated his speech with absurd remarks. He spoke of other groups who deserve equal benefits within phase 2. The hon. Member must know that the Northern Ireland firemen were allowed a double danger allowance. A few weeks ago workers at Windscale were given an additional payment within phase 2 because of the dangers to which they were subjected. This solution is available to the Home Secretary for the police but it has not been taken.

Both those cases were approved by the TUC as being within pay policy. When the original suggestion was made that the policemen were linked in some way with the claim that the seamen had made, the same offer was made to them. I do not know what happened in the TUC or in negotiations between the Home Secretary and the Federation, but if that kind of opening had been available the Home Secretary would have been only too willing to grasp it. If that was all that was denying a settlement I am sure that the Home Secretary would have been willing to take that action.

The settlement should be within pay policy. If the TUC, the Government, the Federation and the local authorities could find a settlement which is within pay policy I am sure that the whole House would be willing to approve it.

The argument comes back to the meaning of paragraph 8. Although I do not say that it is entirely unarguable that the £6 a week is open to the police, paragraph 8 of the White Paper does admit of the argument used by the Home Office and the local authorities for at least a year, that in these circumstances the police are not entitled to that £6.

5.49 p.m.

It is my duty to declare an interest. For about 12 years I have been parliamentary adviser to the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales. That has given me a valuable insight into police matters, but one does not need to have detailed knowledge as a Member of Parliament to know that the police service is now faced with a grave crisis.

The issue is not as simple as the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) makes out with his references to a paragraph in a little bit of paper. I ask him to recognise as the vast majority of Members of Parliament on both sides and increasing numbers of the public recognise, that it is truly terrifying that at a time when terrorism is rife in one part of the United Kingdom and could, though God forbid, return again to our mainland cities, and at a time when the ordinary crime rates are soaring, men are leaving what has hitherto been the proudest and best police service in the world, while many of those who remain are calling bitterly for the right to strike, like everyone else in our increasingly anarchic society.

The blame for this situation, despite what their apologist has just said, lies clearly on the shoulders of the Government. They have allowed it to develop in, one might say, a fit of absence of mind. I acquit the previous or present Home Secretary of wanting a situation of that kind; of course they do not. It has just happened.

It is necessary to have a debate like this—I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) for taking the opportunity—in order that Parliament can remind the Government that the maintenance of law and order is the first requirement of any civilised State. We are not here dealing with just any group of people but those who stand in the first line of defence of the public. Last year alone there were 12,000 assaults on police officers, many of which involved serious injury and disfigurement. I say to the Government that these men deserve a far better deal than they have been getting. This is a unique situation and it calls for a unique answer.

Let us just consider the facts. Incredibly, at a time of high unemployment when good working men are desperately looking for jobs in every town and city in this country, men are leaving the police service. What is more, the pace at which they are leaving is accelerating. According to the latest Home Office returns, 20 forces have more vacancies now than three months ago and four forces have only maintained their establishment by recruiting women. In the Metropolitan Force, for example, in the first four months of this year there was a small net increase in numbers but a sharp fall in the number of men recruited. The situation was met wholly by recruiting more women.

If one takes the authorised establishment of all police forces, the average deficiency in actual strength on 28th February was 7·66 per cent. In some forces, of course, the figure was higher. In the City of London it was 16·92 per cent., in the Metropolitan Force it was 16·25 per cent., in the West Midlands it was 11·5 per cent., in Humberside it was 9·8 per cent., in Bedfordshire it was 9·35 per cent., and in Derbyshire it was 9·18 per cent. This has occurred at a time of rising crime. There is no doubt whatever about the reason.

The Chairman of the Police Council is Sir John Nightingale, who happens to be the Chief Constable of my own County of Essex. In his annual report for 1976 he reminds us that the Essex Police are having to cope with a record number of offences. There were over 47,000 last year, the highest figure ever recorded in the history of the force, compared with 34,500 four years ago. What is particularly ominous is that not only were the Essex police having to cope with a record 130 crimes a day but the number they were able to solve fell sharply compared with their achievement in the previous year. That is the point. In recent years, as a a result of steps taken by successive Home Secretaries, there has been an increase in police efficiency and the detection rate per man. But this healthy trend is now starting to move in reverse. That in itself is surely a matter for alarm.

Sir John said:
"During 1976 the difficulties of the past few years have increased and continued to press upon us, crime increased, the accident rate increased and our financial problems grew greater. Many police officers are beginning to feel that their devotion to duty and willingness to assume heavier burdens are being taken for granted without adequate recompense."
Commenting on the number of police officers who left the force last year, Sir John said:
"The effect on wastage from the force is becoming noticeable. A total loss of 206 police officers included 82 retiring on pension and premature wastage of 124. All these figures are the highest ever reported in the force. The most important single factor contributing to this wastage is the level of pay."
The House should ask "Where did these men go?" I have enquired at police headquarters at Chelmsford. Some emigrated. They had had enough and went to serve in police forces overseas or to begin a new life in other countries. Others sought better paid work as milk roundsmen and bank messengers, even though there is little prospect of later advancement in either of those two very useful professions.

The Home Secretary should be ashamed of presiding over a situation like this, which is knocking the heart out of good men.

I am glad that for the first time the hon. Gentleman is with me. He has not been in the debate very long, but I am sure that as we proceed he will give me his unqualified support.

I have been busy on another matter dealing with another aspect of incomes policy. I hope that like me the hon. Gentleman will in future be consistent in opposing incomes policies for groups of people like the police. Does he accept that incomes policies are designed to fall on certain calculated groups like the 250,000 miners, so many thousand policemen, railway-men, teachers, and so on, while those in the higher eschelons of industry are able to escape because of the perks and everything else available to them? That is why we feel this problem is caused by the devastating effects of incomes policies. They are all bad, Tory and Labour. The Liberals would be worse.

Leaving aside his rebuke to the three principal parties, I think there is a great deal of sense in what the hon. Gentleman says. I shall say something at the end of my speech which I hope will at least carry me a part of the way with the hon. Gentleman.

The point that needs to be made again is that a police officer is forbidden by a strict disciplinary code from supplementing his earnings by additional employment, and that is absolutely right. Because of his position his wife is less free than other wives to take employment, and her choice is restricted. In general, a police officer is proud of his profession but is increasingly finding the way he is being treated hard to bear.

Senior officers with whom I work tell me that they have never known such dissatisfaction in the ranks as exists today. That feeling is also shared by senior officers. Let me give an illustration of the unfair and shortsighted policy which now prevails, and of the distortion of standards which the Home Office has allowed to take place.

From September 1975 until March 1977, of the 550 chief inspectors promoted to the rank of superintendent, 258—just under half—received on promotion less starting pay per annum than they had received in earnings during the previous 12 months. Where else in the professions, in what other group of workers in the kingdom, can we find such a situation? The reason of course is that a chief inspector is paid overtime while a police superintendent is deemed to be on call 24 hours of the day and is not paid overtime—although on average, as a recent national survey has shown, superintendents work a 53-hour week.

Could there be anything more ridiculous, discouraging and unfair? A man is urged to accept more responsibility, to take on the command of other men, but he gets less pay. What a way to run a police force.

I warn the Government. There is no more loyal and reliable body of men than the police superintendents. They care about the reputation of their force, the morale of their men. They are proud to be leaders in the British police service. They want no truck with threats of militant action. To a man, they are opposed to the idea of the police striking. They are opposed, as I imagine the House would expect them to be, to any idea of affiliating to the TUC—not out of any disrespect to the trade union movement, but because the police are the one body which must rise above partisan interests.

But the Home Secretary should not take them for granted. He should not trade on their patriotism and high sense of responsibility. If they are to do their job properly, if men lower down the scale are to be encouraged to accept promotion, then the starting pay for superintendents must be increased.

It follows, too, that if the police service is to put aside thoughts of militant action, if it is to continue to stand apart from all political action—I think that we are all united on the desirability of that—then, to compensate it for the lack of negotiating muscle and the power to compel attention to its claims, the Government must recognise that the service occupies a unique position.

Since we are all trying to advance constructive ideas, I would say that the minimum is to implement immediately what is due to the police under phase 2, backdated to 1st September 1976, and to open negotiations without delay to arrive at a pay settlement in September this year which will be acceptable both to the police and the public they protect. The Superintendents Association has not withdrawn from the Police Council and is ready to negotiate at any time.

What I have suggested could be done, and done fairly within the framework of a further period of pay restraint for all workers if the policy were based on three elements. This is where I hope that I can carry the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) at least some part of the way with me.

The first element is a percentage increase to cover the costs of inflation, granted to all workers across the board. The second is a percentage element to allow all groups freedom to restore differentials and to reward skill and training. The third is a percentage element which recognises that certain groups carry particularly heavy burdens and face particularly heavy work problems.

It is in the third element in any rational pay policy that we could recognise the unique position of the police as a body of men and women who cannot strike or work to rule, who face particular difficulties, dangers and hardships, and yet who at the same time need to maintain high morale and should be encouraged to accept willingly the huge increase in the work load.

What is so sad is that all this—the responsibility and the position of the police force in our society—has been said before. It was said by the Oaksey Committee in 1947, by the Royal Commision in 1960 and by the House of Commons Expenditure Committee in its report on police recruitment and wastage in 1974. The only difference is that law and order is under far greater strain today than it was in 1947, 1960 or even 1974.

We are facing a deteriorating situation, with an increasingly unhappy body of men, under strength and under considerable strain. We are playing upon their loyalties, and that is wrong. This cannot continue much longer. The thin blue line is already overstretched. Who can say with any certainty that it can go on coping along these lines?

Clearly, the Home Secretary must will the means to solve this problem as quickly as possible. It is a unique situation and it calls for a unique answer.

6.5 p.m.

I declare myself a wholehearted supporter of the police case for extra pay under both phase 1 and phase 2. I gratefully adopt everything said about their case by my hon. Friends, who have made many good points.

The police are not just another group. In an otherwise admirable speech, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) commended the case for the police having extra pay but spoilt it, for me anyway, by saying that many other people also deserved more pay. It is folly to consider the police as if they were just another group, an instrument of Government industrial policy, as the trade unions now are, and not on their own merits.

I sympathise with the attitude of the Police Federation towards the Police Council. Where pay is concerned, under present conditions of an incomes policy, negotiating in that forum appears a charade. The Council can pay only what the Government allow it to pay under the pay policy. Attempts by the Council or its members to talk as if it is an independent negotiating body when everyone knows or believes that it is not simply robs the Police Council of its credibility. A great deal of good will is lost simply because some of its members pretend that the Government's offer is their own.

It may be, formally and legally, as the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) said, that the only negotiating body provided under statute is the Police Council, but the fact remains that an incomes policy has been superimposed upon what was understood to be the statutory negotiating machinery. Now, effectively, the Government determine incomes and, therefore, dominate negotiations.

The fact that most of the local authority representatives on the Police Council are at the moment from authorities controlled by the Conservative Party only adds to the natural cynicism which the Police Federation feels about negotiating through the Council.

I hope that new negotiating machinery will soon be devised to give local police authorities a proper share in determining police pay and conditions. But if that is done it will work only on one condition, that the average level of police pay is always maintained at a premium—Willink said 4 per cent.—above the average level of the pay of industrial workers. That is absolutely fundamental to any settlement of police pay, now and in future.

Differentials within the force, allowances and other conditions of service can all be argued about and determined by a body including representatives of local police authorities, but the one essential item—the level of financing which maintains the police differential above the average industrial wage at all times—must be provided by the central Government as long as the latter impose a central incomes policy.

If the Government are entitled to intervene in all wage bargaining and to impose a flat-rate increase, they are surely entitled to say that there should be fixed differentials where circumstances justify that. Circumstances justify differential treatment for the police because, unlike most British workers, they are a disciplined force without the right of strike or the right to join the TUC—circumscribed and limited in their ability to negotiate. It seems to me that in return for their loss of freedom in all these areas the police are entitled to ask for a quid pro quo in their pay and conditions. That must mean the premium as recommended by Willinck.

The Minister constantly asserts that the 1975 settlement was generous, as if that excuses the ungenerous treatment of later years. The fact is that it was only in 1975 that we got anywhere near to paying the proper rate for the job. We should be ashamed of ourselves that at a time of rising crime and growing demands upon the police the level of pay has fallen. Since 1975 the mean treatment accorded to the police by the Government has resulted in a pay level well below the industrial norm.

Is my hon. Friend aware—and if not, would he be surprised to know—that in my constituency, in a place called Kirk-ham, the average take-home pay of a police constable who is married and has two children and has been three years in the service is only £36·70? Does my hon. Friend agree that this is the kind of take-home pay which an ordinary industrial worker would consider to be less than acceptable?

I absolutely agree with that.

The danger today is that by refusing the Government's present niggardly offer the police may find themselves well into phase 3 before they get a settlement, which may be far below what they would have been entitled to had they meanwhile gone along with the Government. The essential point remains. The police settlement must ultimately be based upon a premium over and above the average level of industrial wages in the country. Once that has been established, the legitimate claims of the police will have been satisfied.

6.12 p.m.

It is the remark of the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) in his recent intervention, introducing what he alleged was a statistic applying to his constituent and the use of the term "ordinary worker", that has brought me briefly into this debate. I have listened carefully to practically all the debate, because when police officers from various parts of the country came to see us some time ago I had an interesting, useful and detailed discussion with the representatives of the police force in my area, as did most other hon. Members. Those representatives put their point of view to me, speaking for people whom I have known and whose work I have respected for many years.

I do not believe that it serves any useful purpose for groups of workers or for members of the police force to try to create an artificial contrast, tinged with some social disqualification, by making a claim for an increase because an ordinary worker might earn as much. That sort of thing does not help anyone. People are entitled to put forward their case based upon a consideration of their needs. The police cannot claim—and never have claimed to me—that they are in any way unique in suffering from increased price levels and an increased cost of living. It is a matter of fact that a number of sections of people, employed in various types of important work, are now suffering a further cut in their standard of living.

At a meeting in my constituency recently, an engineering worker of considerable skill remained behind after the meeting, at which we had discussed for an hour and a half the Employment Protection Act. This man said to me, when we were alone, "We did not talk about wages and incomes tonight, but I would like to ask you how we are to fare in future, given the fact that, on the figures I shall put to you, I am now suffering an actual reduction in my standard of living, in my income, of 7 per cent. for the 12 months ending this month?" We went through the figures. What he said was absolutely correct.

What we are discussing is a general problem. I am not terrified of the idea of the Police Federation seeking affiliation with the Trades Union Congress. I can see nothing terrifying in that proposition. I do not presume to give advice to members of the Police Federation. I gave no such advice when they came to see me. Equally, I would not give any other profession advice on a subject such as this when it is within the province of the membership to decide. It is not right that the House should begin to be terrified of the idea of the Police Federation affiliating to the TUC. There may be advantages in such an affiliation.

The police would soon take their place with other civil servants who are playing an increasingly important rôle in the councils of the TUC. So far I have seen no harm come either to the TUC or to the federations of professional workers who have affiliated to it. I have always been opposed to any barrier between police officers and other people. What is most excellent in our police force can only be further advanced by close contact with people in different kinds of work. If the police want to join the TUC, I would be neither opposed nor frightened by that.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), who made the point that one of the reasons why the superintendents—and perhaps the hon. Member himself—are opposed to the Police Federation joining the TUC is that the police must not be associated with any kind of partisan point of view. The TUC is not a partisan organisation. It is the proud claim of the Leader of the Opposition, recently expressed at an important public meeting, that she estimates that fully one-third of the members of the TUC are supporters of her political party. I regard the evidence of the Leader of the Opposition on that point as reasonable evidence and I am even unhappy enough not to be able to contradict her very much. I wish her well. I think that her estimate may be right.

It is quite wrong to talk about the TUC—an organisation of between 10 million and 11 million members, taking one year with another, with such a high proportion of people from all political parties and from none—as a partisan body. What we are mainly debating is the Federation's immediate claim. I regret that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is not here at the moment to hear me. If there is any element of partisanship which makes me unhappy when we discuss these matters—which was not present when I met representatives of the police officers in my area—it is the pretence of some Opposition Members that the real problem arises because we have an Opposition fully imbued with the importance of the service given by police officers as opposed to a blind and indifferent Government who do not understand how important the police are.

Anyone who examines those propositions will know that they are nonsense. Anyone who has talked to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary at this unfortunate period, when these discussions between the Federation and my right hon. Friend have been taking place, will know what nonsense this is. We do not serve the cause of the Police Federation by seeking to create such an atmosphere of indifference, alleging that the Government are not concerned. I am not known in the House as an air raid shelter for Her Majesty's Government. No one would expect me to make such a statement merely because I want the Government to appear as knights in shining armour. But it is completely wrong to try to create the impression among police officers that they are up against a Government who do not care either for their position or for their future. That is nonsense, and it ought to be put on record that it is nonsense.

What is involved is a real problem. It is not the veto of the TUC either. I do not believe that such a veto power exists. What exists is something quite different. It is the duty of a Government to judge whether a difficult social policy that they are pursuing is to be destroyed or shall remain alive. There is no legal power of the TUC to countermand a decision. But there is the industrial power of the TUC to warn—"If you do this, the policy will be in ruins." That is much more influential, as every hon. Member knows, than an artificial veto power that does not and cannot exist.

Can the hon. Gentleman give an explanation of why it was that the TUC stated in 1973 that in its view the miners should be treated as a special case and in 1977 it is not saying the same about the police force?

That may be so, but we are reviewing matters at present, and allegations have been made as to why the present situation has arisen as though the immediate past is relevant and cannot be dismissed.

I believe that there have been mistakes all along the line. I believe that those who advised the Police Federation to leave the Police Council—the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) sought to justify that decision—were very ill advised. It is quite wrong to leave a negotiating position merely because one is not immediately successful. I contrast the attitude to that decision of some hon. Members with their attitude and the advice that they give to other groups of workers when they are involved in industrial disputes. One would not carry much success on the Opposition Benches if one said that because a group of workers had not achieved success they should leave the negotiating machinery. That would be denounced by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) on behalf of the Opposition, as the worst kind of industrial conduct. Nor would the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) have approved of such conduct when he was in charge of a great Department of State directly concerned with industrial negotiations.

The problem was and is a real problem. I believe that if the Police Federation had stayed on the Police Council it would have done better for its members. That is what I told the police officers who came to see me in the delegation. Concerning the present period, it should not be beyond the wit of man to get, first, the agreement of the police officers-given the interpretation that the Government put upon the events that have taken place, which were rehearsed convincingly by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), given that that must now be accepted and that history has passed on, and given also what I believe to be a perfectly genuine and, from the point of view of police officers, perfectly justified grievance: that they were very unfortunate and that, having reached a point of settlement that was brought about, for a number of reasons they could not then take immediate advantage of an award under phase 1.

They were in the same position as were the firemen who, under a previous wages policy, came to us complaining bitterly and felt the grievance for more than two years. They had reached an agreement, but because a signature had not been put to it for 48 hours, they could not receive the award under that agreement, and they had to accept that.

Under a wages policy this is something that inevitably hurts various groups of workers and civil servants. Given this genuine grievance, when phase 2 comes to an end every effort must be made to ensure that some of that is somehow made good to police officers. That would find the approval of all hon. Members and every member of the public.

6.26 p.m.

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) on raising the particularly vital subject of police pay and conditions for debate this afternoon, and, indeed, on presenting a strong case in an excellent speech.

It is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) said, a primary duty of the Government to ensure protection for the citizens in their country. A strong, well-equipped police service enjoying widespread support from the public is vital to the fulfilment of that obligation. It is, therefore, a most regrettable fact that, at a time when crime is increasing at an alarming rate and when violent crime is all to prevalent, police pay is the subject of a most unhappy dispute between the Government and the representatives of many police officers.

In these circumstances we should, of course, have liked the Home Secretary to reply to the debate, but he has written to me explaining the reasons for his absence, and those I fully accept. In his place we welcome the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary. Where she cannot reassure us this evening, I trust that she will pass on the very serious anxieties expressed on all sides in this debate to her right hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend's motion is in three parts. First, it appreciates the genuine grievances of the police over their pay and conditions of service. I have noted that there is widespread agreement in the House on that point. Indeed, I should have thought that we could all have accepted it. It was certainly accepted by the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), Galloway (Mr. Thompson) and, as I understand, the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and, indeed, the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), as it was accepted by many of my hon. Friends as well. Therefore, I think that there is widespread acceptance of that part of my hon. Friend's motion.

No doubt we have all met police officers and received sad and angry letters, and worrying letters, setting out their financial position in detail. In the case of young constables, the pay slips sent to me and to many of my colleagues have frequently shown take-home pay of less than £40 a week, and in many other cases of between £40 and £50 a week. In the current circumstances I think that the House would agree that these are deplorably low levels. Some of us have met deputations of police officers' wives, who in my experience were both dignified and very depressed about their family circumstances.

I say here, in reinforcing what my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield said to the Under-Secretary, that I was distressed by the tone of her reply to me at Question Time on 5th May. It is surely true—I may here cross swords with the hon. Member for Penistone; I am not sure—that police officers and their wives have to maintain a position of some standing in our community. That is part of their job. They are considered to be something different. It is an inevitable part of our structure, both in our towns and, I believe, in our villages in the rural areas. For that very good reason they feel inhibited about claiming family income supplement or allowances for the lowest paid. Anyway, there must surely be something very seriously wrong with police pay and conditions of service if they are eligible for it. Furthermore, we have all been given details—

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he says "they are eligible for it". In fact, a policeman can be eligible for it only in his first year of service if he has at least four children and receives no overtime pay. Therefore, it is not the vast majority of policemen who are eligible.

The point remains that it is understandable that they should feel inhibited about claiming, and I hope that the Under-Secretary recognises that.

We have been given details showing that far too many police officers are leaving the service for other employment. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said that the number of officers leaving was about equal to the number being recruited. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East told us of the views of the Chief Constable of Essex, Sir John Nightingale, about this very worrying situation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) said that recruitment to the police is worst in areas where crime is worst, which also is a serious matter.

Our police officers have a genuine grievance, which is seriously undermining their morale at a time when we are demanding more of them and when they are being faced with increasing difficulties and dangers. That is the first part of the motion. It seems acceptable to hon. Members throughout the House, and I hope that the Under-Secretary accepts it.

Second, the motion urges the Government to settle the dispute "fairly and quickly". From what has been said today, it is clear that few hon. Members would question the need for such action. Of course, I accept that there must be two parties to an agreement. It is important to appreciate that. I wish to put forward my ideas about how the matter should be settled. I do not think that this is a one-sided matter, and I assure the hon. Member for Penistone that I shall not argue that everything rests with the Government.

I have sufficient experience of seeking to settle disputes of one sort or another in my political life to know that there is little value in dwelling on accusations and counter-accusations about past events, which seem to assume ever-increasing importance on both sides of the argument, and the further back in the past they lie the more importance they attain in many people's minds. One must argue on the position that has been reached and the facts as they are now.

I say frankly to the Police Federation that from its point of view this means accepting the confines of stage 2 of the Government's present wages policy. To be fair to the Federation, it has indicated that it accepts this. I say equally frankly to the Government that in all the circumstances they should go to the utmost limit of what is permissible, and they should be ready to make, as several hon. Members suggested, some clear forward commitments for the future if they are to maintain the sort of police service that will be necessary to protect our citizens. I hope that the Under-Secretary will indicate in detail, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, exactly what is on offer in terms of cash and fringe benefits.

The Government have a duty to make absolutely clear to the leaders of the Police Federation, and to state publicly to all its members, exactly what police officers at various grades could put in their pockets now in terms of increased weekly wages, and the back-dating of the increase to last September, if the offer were accepted. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of stating these facts publicly and clearly, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will take the opportunity to do so in the House tonight I regard that as all the more important because I am convinced that there must be two parts to the offer: the maximum that can be given now in cash under the terms of stage 2 and any fringe benefits that can be added to it, and clear objectives and commitments under any subsequent arrangement at the end of stage 2. On this point I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester.

For that reason I should stress to the Police Federation also that if an agreement is not reached before the end of stage 2 its members will fall even further behind before any future catching-up operation can take place. Detailed discussion of what can happen in the future must inevitably take time. I agree with what was said by my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St. Edmunds and for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), that the police have fallen considerably behind what was originally devised by the Willink Commission. It is equally important that the matter should be settled before the end of stage 2 and before the whole basis of pay and salary discussions moves to a completely different level. I want to see the two things dealt with more or less separately.

One comes, therefore, to this answer. It is clearly in the interests of the Police Federation and its members to reach an early settlement, provided that the Government can give the Federation, first, a reasonable position now and, second, clear commitments that will begin next September. I should have thought that something could be done in regard to fringe benefits, which have been much discussed, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us exactly what can be given now.

As for kitty bargaining, I understand that this was discussed at some stage, but it is now alleged that the TUC found it to be outside the terms of the stage 2 policy. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will say something about this too, because it seems to be wrapped in a good deal of mystery. The more all these matters are wrapped in mystery, with accusations and counter-accusations, the less likely are we to get a settlement. Equally, it must be in the Government's interests to make it as easy as possible for the Police Federation to make a settlement now, in view of the debt which we all owe to our police service.

That is the second part of the motion. I hope that the suggestions I am putting forward are fair and reasonable, and I trust that they will be seriously considered and answered by the Under-Secretary tonight or discussed further by the Government.

I turn to the third part of the motion. I understand that the Home Secretary is prepared to set up an independent inquiry into the best method of determining the wage structure for the police in the future. Will the Under-Secretary confirm this? Will she also give some indication of the proposed terms of reference and the timing? What is happening about all this? We should be told. I regret that the Police Council is no longer acceptable to the Police Federation. On this I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington. But we have to accept that that is the position and now we have to move forward. As I have been seeking to criticise those who argue about the past all the time, let me not do the same myself. Let us look forward, recognising that we must have an acceptable new procedure as soon as possible.

Many of us in the House, on both sides, are totally opposed to the concept of a national police force. Therefore, we must appreciate that there has to be local authority representation on any body that replaces the Police Council. I hope that that part of the motion also is acceptable, because I understand that that is more or less what the Government are putting forward. Therefore, it seems that the motion in all its parts is broadly acceptable throughout the House, and I trust that it will be acceptable to the Government.

I hope that the debate that my hon. Friend has initiated so helpfully will encourage everyone to publicise the underlying issues of the police pay controversy and to underline the vital need to resolve the dispute with the utmost urgency in the interests of the whole nation. I hope that it will also concentrate our minds on the future. I am convinced that the present levels of police pay and the position of the police in our national wage structure will not provide our people with the public service that they have the right to expect in modern conditions. Here I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) and for Orpington about the position of the Willink Commission and how we shall get back to it. Perhaps we shall have to have another Royal Commission. The position of the police in our national wage structure will not provide us with the police service that we must have.

We all owe a great debt to our police officers. Our whole society depends on their efficiency and their dedication to duty. We must be prepared to discharge that debt by giving them and their families the standard of living which they so richly deserve.

6.40 p.m.

The House is grateful to the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) for giving us the opportunity to discuss police pay, and I welcome this chance to reply to the main points raised in the debate.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary greatly regrets that he is not able to be with us today, but he has a longstanding engagement to visit the Channel Islands in his capacity as the member of the Privy Council with particular responsibility for the islands. These arrangements have been settled for some considerable time, and my right hon. Friend concluded that in all the circumstances he could not alter them at a very late stage when the arrangements for this debate were announced. I shall be reporting to my right hon. Friend fully on all that has been said in the course of this debate, and I know that he will give careful consideration to it.

First, however, I should like to make two general points. The Government are anxious to see the present dispute about police pay resolved, so that the police can receive without delay the increases which have been available for payment ever since last September. Secondly, despite the differences over pay, I should like to take this opportunity of adding to the many tributes already paid in the House today to the police for the way in which they carry out their uniquely important role. I recognise that they have to bear the brunt of the increasing lawlessness and violence that plague society today, and they do it with extreme courage and dedication.

The history of the present pay dispute starts not with the negotiations which broke down last year but rather with those that were successful in 1975. On 4th June 1975 agreement was reached in the Police Council on new pay scales for all ranks up to and including chief superintendent to take effect from 1st September 1975. As has been pointed out, the overall increase was almost exactly 30 per cent.

On 11th July 1975 the Government announced an agreement with the TUC to limit pay increases to a maximum of £6 a week from the beginning of August 1975. Although the police pay review date of 1st September thus fell in the period when £6 was the normal maximum permissible increase, the White Paper announcing the new counter-inflation policy contained transitional provisions allowing pay agreements to stand, provided that they had been reached before the date of publication of the White Paper and had an effective date not later than 1st September 1975. Without such transitional provisions the police would not have been able to keep the overall increase of 30 per cent. and all ranks would have been limited to a much less favourable supplement of £6 a week, which, unlike basic pay, could not be counted for overtime purposes.

The benefit of keeping the 30 per cent. increase as opposed to a £6 supplement is illustrated by the following examples. A constable on the minimum got an increase in gross basic pay of £11·92 a week between September 1974 and September 1975. A sergeant on his maximum got an increase of £16·06 a week, and a provincial inspector on his maximum got £20·37 a week. A City of London chief inspector on his maximum got £29 a week.

Surely everything that the hon. Lady is saying demonstrates the clear and simple point that the 30 per cent. pay settlement lay outside phase 1, and, therefore, from the police point of view phase 1 started with a clean sheet.

I have said that it fell into the transitional provisions that were within the stage 1 pay policy.

I now come to stage 2. The situation now is quite different from that in 1975. At that time a completely new policy was being introduced, but the second phase of counter-inflation policy which started in August 1976 was esentially a continuation of the first. But there was no room for special cases or transitional provisions if the policy was to continue to be effective. The White Paper on the second phase of incomes policy—Cmnd. 6507—makes it quite clear that there are no transitional provisions this time and that the Government will ensure strict observance of the new policy.

This policy, to meet the economic needs and problems of the nation as a whole, was formed in full knowledge of the position of the police and of the unique importance of the police officer's job and the need to keep standards high. The Government's view is, therefore, that the 1976 settlement for the police must be in accordance with pay policy as it applies on the relevant date—1st September 1976—which means a pay limit of 5 per cent., with a maximum of £4 and a minimum of £2·50 a week.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) asked me to translate that into how it would affect the average constable. The answer is set out in the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) a few days ago. The average benefit of this 5 per cent. increase on earnings with a minimum of £2·50 a week and a maximum of £4, would be £2·83 for a constable at the bottom of the scale, rising to £3·79 a week at the top of the constable scale. Sergeants with two years' service or more and all inspectors and chief inspectors would get the maximum of £4 a week.

The official side of the Police Council has been strongly criticised by the Police Federation, but I do not accept that the present difficulties are due to a lack of responsiveness on the part of the official side or to a lack of readiness on its part to understand the problems of the police. The record shows that it has consistently had the interests of the police service at heart. The Government's counter-inflation policy inevitably means pay restrictions which affect all groups, and what the official side of the Police Council did was to support the Government's policy of its own free will and without any pressure from the Government. I do not feel that it should be criticised for that.

On 21st July 1976 the official side of the Police Council offered the staff side an increase from 1st September 1976 in accordance with phase 2 of incomes policy—that is, a 5 per cent. increase with a minimum of £2·50 a week and a maximum of £4. The staff side rejected the offer and asked the official side to join it in an approach to Government pointing out that the police had not been offered an increase of £6 a week, the implication being that the official side should support the Federation's claim.

The official side declined and issued a statement reaffirming both its support of Government policy and its concern for the well-being of the police service. Despite this, the Federations of England and Wales and Northern Ireland, but not the Federation for Scotland, decided to leave the Police Council.

From that time the Federations of England and Wales and Northern Ireland refused to have any dealings with the Police Council, the statutory negotiating body. Formal pay negotiations are a matter for the Police Council, but with a view to resolving these present difficulties my right hon. Friend met the leaders of the Police Federation for England and Wales on several occasions, and there was also a continuing exchange of correspondence. He emphasised to the Federation his concern for the efficiency, morale and welfare of the police but explained that he must also have regard to the overriding requirements imposed by the economic situation. In the course of these discussions he discussed possible forward commitments to improvements in fringe benefits—and I shall come to this in more detail in a moment. He also discussed the pay position with representatives of the official side of the Police Council.

The climax of these meetings was that the Prime Minister met leaders of the Police Federations of England and Wales and Northern Ireland and also those of Scotland on 7th March this year. He said that the police could not insulate themselves from the national economy, as many hon. Members have reminded us in this debate, and that any settlement with the police would have to be within phase 2, which had already been accepted by almost 5 million workers—not only by the Trades Union Congress, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) pointed out, but also by many millions of workers. As my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) pointed out, even Methodist ministers have had to accept this policy.

My right hon. Friend therefore asked the Police Federations of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to resume discussions with the local authorities and the Government—on an informal basis if need be—with a view to settling their pay dispute in the Police Council. This would enable the offer, already on the table under phase 2 of the incomes policy, to be paid immediately with effect from 1st September 1976.

Accepting that the hon. Lady has spelled out what is available to the police under phase 2 and on the basis that they would have to return to the Police Council, would the Government on those terms be willing to set up an immediate review into the position of police pay as compared with the time of Willink, with an undertaking that that should then be implemented during the period of stage 3?

I am coming a little later to exactly what the Government are proposing, if the hon. and learned Member will wait for a few moments.

My right hon. Friend said that the resumption of discussions within the Police Council would enable the offer already on the table under phase 2 to be paid immediately with effect from 1st September 1976.

The Prime Minister also confirmed the Government's undertaking to consider improving certain fringe benefits under phase 3 and their agreement both to a review of the police negotiating machinery and to an inquiry into the constitution of the Federations. He invited the Federations to let him have personally their thoughts on phase 3 of the incomes policy. While the Prime Minister could give no undertaking about forward commitments, he assured the Federations that their views would be very seriously considered.

Finally, as the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) reminded us, the Prime Minister paid tribute to the police and said that they were a unique and independent force and easily the best in the world. A conflict between the police and the Government could do no good for the police service or for the country. It was for these reasons that he hoped that the Federations would resume negotiations.

In spite of the Prime Minister's appeal, the Federations of England and Wales and Northern Ireland did not return to the Police Council. However, all three Federations attended a number of recent meetings held on an informal basis, outside the machinery of the Council, under the chairmanship of Sir John Nightingale, Chairman of the Police Council. At the last of these meetings, on 25th April, the Federation representatives were offered a phase 2 package which, if accepted, would have brought a settlement of the present dispute.

That package, which had been approved by the official side of the Police Council, was the limit to which we could go within phase 2. Besides an increase of 5 per cent. on earnings with a minimum of £2·50 a week and a maximum of £4, backdated to 1st September 1976, it contained a number of forward commitments to consider improvements in fringe benefits under phase 3.

Forward commitments, subject to consideration in the light of pay policy, would include the following matters: an increase of two days in the annual leave allowance of constables now on 18 days and sergeants now on 20 days, the removal of the restriction of pension payments to those rejoining the service after 1961, and the introduction and scope of an on-call allowance for officers specifically detailed in accordance with Police Regulations to be on call at home on particular occasions.

The leaders of the Police Federation of England and Wales have said that those proposals are not enough to justify acceptance. I very much hope that they will reconsider the position. Continued refusal by the Federation means that the federated ranks have had no pay increase since September 1975, whereas acceptance would put money into their pockets quickly with substantial back pay to September 1976.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, with the support of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland, has undertaken to set up a review and an independent inquiry into the constitutions of the Federations. The second of these—the inquiry into the constitutions of the Federations—is bound to raise issues of fundamental importance for the House and the country. The Federations accept that it must inevitably be done in slower time than the review of the negotiating machinery. As to the review, invitations to take part have been sent to all constituent bodies on the existing Police Council. We hope that all will accept so that the review can be got under way as quickly as possible.

The hon. Lady knows, as I do, that it was agreed that the review should take place last September. She is now promising getting it under way as quickly as possible. What has been holding it up since last September?

I think that what has been holding it up is the difficulties we have had with the Police Federation. In effect, the review of the police pay negotiating machinery will provide, in the most practical and speedy way, for the future method of assessing a fair and just wages structure for the police service. Draft terms of reference for the review have already been circulated for consultation and we shall proceed as quickly as possible. These are the measures that the Government propose, and have indeed already put in hand, to meet the need which prompted the hon. Member for Petersfield to table his motion, and on that understanding we have no quarrel with the motion.

On conditions of service—a topic with which I must deal very briefly—there is not a great deal that I wish to say. No hon. Member mentioned rent the allowance, which is an extremely important part of a policeman's life. This continues to be increased every other year. Every police officer is entitled under Police Regulations either to accommodation completely free of rent and rates or to a rent allowance. This should be taken into consideration when hon. Members talk about police pay. The Police Council tends to include rent allowances in figures of earnings whereas the Police Federation does not.

I entirely understand the strong feelings of the Police Federation with regard to pay. The policy for phases 1 and 2 has, of course, left many people dissatisfied and frustrated. The feelings of the Police Federation with regard to pay are probably shared by millions of other workers who are affected by current restrictions. However, these restrictions are an essential part of the fight to reduce inflation and to contain and reverse the rise of unemployment. Pay policy is an integral part of our economic strategy, and if that were to fail the consequences could be catastropic in terms of living standards and employment.

The efficiency, welfare and morale of the police are prime considerations for my right hon. Friend, but he must also have regard to the overriding requirements imposed by the economic situation. Provided that the Government's economic strategy succeeds, everyone in the country will benefit, including the police. In the Government's view, therefore, the Federation should now accept what is on offer in phase 2 and then look ahead to phase 3.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved

That this House, appreciating the genuine grievances of the police forces over their pay and conditions of service, urges Her Majesty's Government to settle the current dispute fairly and quickly; and calls upon the Home Secretary to set up without delay an independent enquiry into the Police Council and the future method of assessing a fair and just wages structure for the police forces.