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Police (Pay)

Volume 932: debated on Thursday 19 May 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on police pay.

When pay policy came into force in July 1975, the general rule was that all subsequent settlements were subject to the limits laid down, but police pay was increased by an average 30 per cent. from 1st September 1975, under an agreement reached in June 1975, and specially protected by the transitional arrangements provided for in the first round of the pay policy. That agreement increased the weekly pay of the federated ranks by amounts ranging upwards from £10 a week; and under the White Paper the agreement had to be regarded as a first round settlement, displacing the £6 a week which was all that would have otherwise been payable.

At a meeting of the Police Council last July, the official side offered increases for the federated ranks to come into effect from 1st September 1976 in strict accordance with the guidelines for the second round of the pay policy: increases of 5 per cent., with a minimum of £2·50 and a maximum of £4 a week. The staff side rejected the offer. The Police Federation asked the official side to join in making representations to the Government for the payment of increases of £6 a week, on the ground that the previous year's agreement had been a commitment from before the introduction of the first round of the policy. The official side did not feel able to associate itself with representations for what it regarded as a breach of the pay policy. The Police Federations for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland, though not the Scottish Federation, thereupon withdrew from the Police Council.

Informal discussions have since continued with the Federations both on the question of pay and on the question of negotiating machinery, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland and me, had a meeting with representatives of the Federations on 7th March last.

On the question of pay, the Government, with the agreement of the official side of the Police Council, have not departed from the principle that there can be no breach of the second round of the pay policy, but we have discussed possible commitments for future improvements in fringe benefits, subject to pay policy. An offer which, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State told the House on Monday, represented the limit to which we could go was put to the Federations on 25th April. The Federation for England and Wales informed me on 9th May that it regarded the offer as wholly inadequate, adhering to its position that the federated ranks had been denied an increase under the first round of the policy.

Thus discussions with the Federation have regrettably reached an impasse.

In the second round there was no room for flexibility for any organisation and thus acceptance of the offer made on 25th April would leave outstanding many of the problems to which the Federation's representatives have drawn attention in recent discussions. They argue that police pay has fallen significantly behind the relationship to outside pay levels recommended by the Royal Commission in 1960, and they consider that we should be taking account of the way in which the pressures on the police have increased since that time—for example, as a result of the increase in crime and especially in crimes of violence.

I cannot commit myself at this stage to what it will or will not be possible to do for the police in the next round of pay policy, the guidelines for which have still to be decided, but my hope is that the guidelines will offer scope for greater flexibility, and I am anxious that we should not be prevented from considering what may be possible in future by an indefinite continuation of the present impasse.

I am also very conscious of the problems of members of the police service whose pay has not been increased since September 1975. I am reluctant to contemplate their having to wait for a further period of weeks or even months before receiving increases due to them since 1st September 1976.

I therefore propose as soon as possible to make and lay regulations under Section 33 of the Police Act 1964 to increase the pay of the federated ranks of the police service in England and Wales by 5 per cent., with a maximum of £4 a week, with effect from 1st September 1976. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland propose to make similar regulations for the police service in Scotland and Northern Ireland. All the bodies represented on Committee C of the Police Council will be furnished with drafts of these regulations before they are made.

I also propose to proceed with the establishment of an inquiry to review the negotiating machinery for police pay. I have already circulated to all the bodies concerned, including the Federations, draft terms of reference for this inquiry, and I hope that we may be able to make very early progress with this. The Federations have also proposed that there should be a review in the rather longer term of their rôle, functions and constitution. I have told them that I am in principle prepared to set up such a review.

The steps I have announced this afternoon are in the best interests of the police service and of the country and will make it possible to bring to an end the present unhappy and unsatisfactory state of relations between the Police Federations and the bodies represented on the official side of the Police Council, so that we can all turn our attention to the more constructive question of what to do for the future in the next round which for the police begins in September 1977.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that by this drastic action in imposing a settlement he is clearly risking straining police discipline and loyalty far further than this Government would dare to do with any other group? Is it not particularly sad that the order which he proposes to lay is confined to the bare bones of a stage 2 settlement and offers none of the various fringe benefits which were discussed within the pay policy during negotiations and for which my hon. Friends and I have consistently pressed?

Would he confirm that the increase will be backdated to 1st September 1976, which would put some extra money now into the pockets of hard-pressed police officers and their families?

In addition to the various constructive proposals and inquiries which he has offered for the future, would not the Home Secretary agree that it is essential, in the interests of the protection of our citizens in future, that we now make certain that in future pay negotiations we properly reward our police officers for the outstanding service they perform for our nation?

I said that what I was doing was with effect from 1st September 1976. The money will be backdated to that date.

Regarding what I am doing about police discipline, the difficulty is that last July the negotiating machinery broke up. This matter concerns not only the Government, but the local authorities, which provide about 30 per cent. of the money. The negotiations would have been better if all concerned had been involved.

Fringe benefits within the pay policy—an increase in annual leave allowances, the removal of certain restrictions on pensionable age payments and the introduction of and scope for an on-call allowance—were under discussion, but were turned down. All that I am able to do is to operate a strict phase 2 policy.

As I said in my statement, all the bodies represented on Committee C will be furnished with drafts of the regulations before they are laid. That was the way in which the 1964 Act was conceived by the Home Secretary of the day. I was in Opposition at the time and recall it well. I am carrying out the law as it was passed in the House of Commons. The method of pay negotiations for the police is completely different from the pay negotiation methods for private industry and for other grades in industry

Will my right hon. Friend tell us why this could not have been done before? Does he accept that many police representatives whom I have met will appreciate what has been done today and will expect further advances in future?

Will he give special consideration to fringe benefits, because they are important from the police point of view?

There was complaint that I had done it today. If I had done it within the last six or seven months, I imagine that the outcry would have been much greater. There has been no negotiation. The pay negotiating machinery has broken down. I do not accept the situation, but I understand why it has arisen. Bearing in mind that phase 3 for the police starts on 1st September this year, which is a different date from that for other bodies, if we are not careful, when everybody else is negotiating phase 3 the police will miss out again. I wanted to get into a position to be able to talk about their real problems. However, in phases 1 and 2 there could be no exception. We had to stick to the policy. But that is not the only reason for the problems that we have had.

I understand full well the Home Secretary's difficulties. I have a great deal of affection for him personally, but I believe that he is playing with fire.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Joint Central Committee of the Police Federation is a democratically elected body, more representative of the police service than this Government are of the nation? On what authority does he feel entitled to stuff down the throat of this elected body a settlement which, on behalf of the whole service, it has already rejected as being totally inadequate to the needs of the service?

Is the Home Secretary aware that on the last occasion that any Government attempted to do that to an elected group of men, it happened to be the police? My predecessor as adviser to the Police Federation—the present Prime Minister—said that it was wholly unacceptable.

What further proposals has the right hon. Gentleman regarding phase 3? How has it been possible to increase the pay of firemen in Northern Ireland and of workers at Windscale in Cumberland during phase 2? Was it simply because they have the power to strike and the police service has not?

On the last point about Northern Ireland, that was one particular group of firemen. I was at the Fire Brigades Union Conference yesterday. I did not find the rest of the firemen asking for extra money on the ground that firemen in Northern Ireland had been given some. That increase was specifically because of the other problems which arise for firemen in Northern Ireland. Something had to be done about that. If I had been Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I would have done it. The fire brigates did not say that all firemen in the United Kingdom ought to be treated in the same way.

At Windscale, only a small number of people was involved in terms of normal negotiation. I have consulted my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and I understand that it did not break pay policy. We had to stick to phase 2.

If the Opposition believe in a free-for-all in which there are no arrangements for phases or anything of that kind they will find that policemen and the public sector in general come at the bottom of the pile in those arrangements. There have been questions as to what happened in the past. I understand that the Government of the day did then what I am doing now—and only for widows. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that if the Government could do that for a small group, they could do it for the whole. I know that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) will object to what I have done, speaking on behalf of the police, but I have to take a wider view. I believe that this is right. In my view, the police will miss out unless we enable ourselves to look at their problems in the next phase.

Of course the negotiating body for the police is democratically elected. I am not stuffing this proposal down anybody's throat. Just as in the Elementary Education Act 1870 there was a Cowper-Temple clause which said that one did not have to have religious education, I shall have a clause put in—if necessary, named after the hon. Gentleman—which will allow any policeman to say "No, I do not want the pay".

Will the Home Secretary recognise that, although it is right that policemen and their families should have in their pockets sums which are not in dispute, this settlement will in no way remove the deep grievance about the £6 and whether it ought to have been replaced by the £30? Since this matter will come up in phase 3 negotiations, how does he envisage those negotiations being carried out, given the atmosphere which now obtains and the fact that the machinery is not operating?

The atmosphere cannot be worse than it is now in terms of negotiation. I hope that is not a threat from people who are not involved.

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman said on the first point. Coming down from Bridlington last night, I heard on the radio that the Liberal Party wanted a stern incomes policy from which there was no movement in any shape or form. The first thing that it does today is to ask me to depart from that policy.

My right hon. Friend referred to the Fire Brigades Union. The police do not belong to the Trades Union Congress. As the Police Federation is likely to vote for affiliation to the TUC and, because of the present discontent, to vote also for the right to strike, does my right hon. Friend agree that, although many policemen will accept these proposals, they will not get rid of the discontent? In view of the discontent and the fact that the Police Federation will probably vote for affiliation to the TUC, what is the Government's attitude? Will they encourage it? Personally, I believe that they should.

I take my hon. Friend's point about the discontent, because it is present. It is also present amongst many other groups of workers.

I understand that an Act that was put through the House by the previous Administration in 1963 or 1964 allows the Police Federation to affiliate to other organisations. It is not for the Government to say whether an organisation can affiliate to the TUC. I understand that it is not a matter of knocking on the door and saying "Here we are." It is a question whether the organisation, in terms of its rules and regulations and so on, meets certain criteria. I doubt whether the Police Federation, as organised now, would meet those criteria.

I have made my view clear on the right to strike. I do not deny that that has a bearing on this matter. But, given the history of the police and the work that they do, I believe that they would be wrong to get involved in strike action for pay. I accept that it is the job of the Government of the day to see that the police are compensated for this, bearing in mind how strike action relates to professionalism and so forth. From 1960 onwards all Governments are to blame when it comes to the implementation of the Royal Commission precepts. We must look at this, but it cannot be done in phase 1 or phase2.

Can the Secretary of State explain how the Government are able to provide fringe benefits for the seamen in order to get around the incomes policy but are so intransigent with the police? In relation to the review of the police negotiating machinery, is he aware that this was promised last September? Why has there been this period of complete inactivity?

There has been no inactivity on my part. We have had submissions from the Police Federation last week on their views on the members and terms of reference of the negotiating body. These are being looked at. On fringe benefits. I do not accept that the seamen's award broke phase 2. I have a list here of the fringe benefits which we discussed and which were turned down. I put to the constituent members of the Police Council that it would have to be a straight phase 2 agreement.

While agreeing with the Home Secretary about the unwisdom of police contemplating strike action, may I ask whether he is aware that he is the police authority for the Metropolitan Police who have to work longer hours, are worse paid, and have less leave than any other comparable police force in Western Europe or North America? If we allow that situation to continue we shall put in jeopardy our reputation for policing in this country.

I understand that, but I do not accept the hon. Member's analogy. I accept that inflation has eroded pay for everyone and that differentials have been altered as a result of a strict pay policy. One of the differences between the Metropolitan Police and police forces in the provinces is that the latter have the problem of very little overtime. On the other hand, the Metropolitan Police get an enormous amount of overtime. I would be the last person to justify that situation in terms of take-home pay and rent allowances, which are not taxable and are higher in the metropolitan area. I do not accept what the hon. Member says. However, I agree that we should do something about the general situation and I hope that in phase 3 we can make a beginning.

I propose to call only those hon. Members who were on their feet at that moment.

The Home Secretary has not answered the questions about fringe benefits. Would he say a word about pensions?

Fringe benefits in phase 2 of the pay policy were not in any way major benefits. There were certain fringe benefits for which there was a commitment subject to the pay policy under phase 2. We are not pre-empting phase 3 and we were discussing fringe benefits with the police. Since I have been in the Home Office, despite the cutbacks in estimated public expenditure, we have reached a position in which we are spending half a billion pounds in real terms on law and order in general, and an enormous amount of that goes on police pensions and fire service pensions. I am not complaining about that, nor am I saying that police pensions are perfect. I am merely pointing out that an enormous amount of extra money that I spend goes on police pensions.

In the Home Secretary's own words, the police will still feel as if they are at the bottom of the pile after this unfair settlement is imposed upon them. How much longer will this Government tolerate a situation in which the Police pay is 20 per cent. below the national average male wage? The Royal Commission said that police pay should be 4 per cent. above the national average. Will the Home Secretary find it in his heart to do something about stage 3 before next week, otherwise a decision may be taken in anger by the Police Federation which we shall regret in years to come?

Maybe I shall regret it more than anyone else as I am the one who has to go to the Police Federation. If there is to be a pay policy, it is absolutely vital that in respect of stages 1 and 2 we should stick to the rules. Pay policy has played a major part in the economic policy of the last couple of years. I can say nothing about stage 3 at the moment, but in talking with my Cabinet colleagues about stage 3 I feel that it would be very much better to have the police views about stage 3 instead of their talking about stage 1. We have had their views in the past, but they should be talking about stage 3 now, as all the other unions are doing.

Has the Home Secretary considered what effect his statement will have on the Police Federation conference beginning on Tuesday? Does he not think that it is far more likely now than before that the police will vote for the right to strike? If they do, what reaction can we expect from the Home Secretary?

I have already indicated that I believe that police forces and the right to strike do not go together. If that is not the view of the police, so be it. In this country we would have to consider it and find out whether it was a majority view. I do not attend many trade union or professional body conferences—by the very nature of my job. I could have left this statement until after the conference next Wendesday, but I thought that it was more honourable to make it beforehand. Hon. Members should consider the fact that it would have been much easier for me to have left it.

For the future, will the Home Secretary accept on behalf of the Government the principle of the Willink Report, namely that the police should have a premium of 4 per cent. above the national average industrial wage?

Governments of all persuasions gave their view on this. I cannot pre-empt phase 3. I understand the position of the police and the job that they do in this country. What was not possible for phases 1 and 2 may be possible in phase 3 in this respect. It may be, as I discovered at the Fire Brigades Union conference yesterday, that changing responsibility means changing methods. A former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said to me that the police would have to decide whether they were more interested in boot allowances or in becoming a professional body. [HON. MEMBERS: "Superficial."] It is not superficial and that man knows more about the police than do hon. Gentlemen opposite. This is what is involved in pay negotiations over the years.