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Police Terms and Conditions of Service (Redundancy)

Volume 516: debated on Wednesday 20 October 2010

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for police officers to be offered, or be made subject to, terms of redundancy; to set out the circumstances in which such redundancies can be made; and for connected purposes.

I should first declare an interest as a member of the Kent police authority. In that role, working with Kent’s chief constable, I will have to help to make the savings the Chancellor has just announced. I should also emphasise that I speak as a friend and supporter of the police. I pay tribute to their service and the fact that, almost alone among the public servants affected by today’s announcement, they forswear the right to strike.

In Kent, we are fortunate to have a chief constable who sees lower spending as an opportunity to deliver a new and more efficient way of policing Kent and to keep crime coming down. As we make cuts in the central grant—these might be higher than the overall figure of 4% per year that we have just heard—it is essential to allow police forces and authorities to decide how best to police their areas with the money they have. Unfortunately, the law does not currently give them that freedom, so we are asking chief constables to make cuts with one hand tied behind their back. That is because, historically, the police enjoy a unique status under the common law as constables who exercise discretion under the Crown. A senior police officer cannot order a constable to make an arrest; the constable must decide for himself. On that basis, the courts have traditionally held that the law of master and servant does not apply to the police. That law has evolved into the modern statute-based employment law that we have today, but, extraordinarily, the police still remain outside its scope. As no one employs the police, no one can make them redundant. A police officer is appointed subject to two years’ probation, but after that, unless they are found guilty of gross misconduct, their appointment as a police officer simply continues until they retire—generally after 30 years. It makes France look like a flexible labour market.

Hon. Members might ask how cuts will be made in police budgets. The answer is that they will be concentrated on cheaper civilians. On average, police forces are made up of about 60% police officers and 40% civilians, but as forces have set out projected plans for reductions, they have had no choice but to target civilian staff disproportionately. Strathclyde police say that they plan to lose 200 officers and 600 civilians, and Cambridgeshire police say that they plan to lose 470 officers and 550 civilians. In my own force, Kent, our chief constable had suggested cuts of 500 officers and 1,000 civilians.

Those civilians are employed in a range of roles—from call handlers to crime investigators to police community support officers—which are clearly on the front line of policing. Forces often use civilians for specialist roles that do not need fully warranted officers who have had costly training across all aspects of policing. That allows police forces to concentrate those officers where the public want them most. We want the police to do that, but unless we change the law, we risk forcing police officers off the streets and into back-office roles that are now done by police staff, because we let police authorities make their civilian employees redundant but make them pay police officers until they retire, whether or not they are needed and irrespective of performance.

The only flexibility—I use that word advisedly—that police forces and authorities have in respect of police officers is to force them to retire under regulations 19 and 20. Under regulation 19, police officers can be required to retire when they have reached pensionable service, which is generally after 30 years. Meanwhile, regulation 20 states that a police authority may require a police officer to retire

“if he is permanently disabled for the performance of his duty”.

But I must tell the House that, when in Kent one of our officers is injured while protecting the public and is perfectly capable of doing a good desk job, we would like to look after them, not force them to retire simply because they are the only type of officer to whom we can do that.

I am not sure whether those regulations will in any event survive what I suspect will be a wave of litigation that their use will soon engender, but I want to introduce the Bill because I believe that hon. Members should make that decision in the House. If we are to require police forces and authorities to make significant savings, we should allow them to do that in a way that makes most sense for local policing. We should certainly not force them to do it by targeting civilians, the old and the disabled.

I ask hon. Members for permission to introduce the Bill, since today we are telling our local police forces that they must make savings; we should also give them the freedom to decide how that is done.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Mark Reckless, Mr Aidan Burley, Kwasi Kwarteng, Lorraine Fullbrook, Amber Rudd, Priti Patel, Mr Robert Buckland, Mr David Ruffley, Mr Douglas Carswell, Fiona Bruce, Mr Philip Hollobone and Mr Christopher Chope present the Bill.

Mark Reckless accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 14 October, and to be printed (Bill 81).