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Police: Working Conditions

Volume 739: debated on Thursday 19 July 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received about the case for flexibility in police working conditions and practices.

My Lords, police working conditions and practices are discussed regularly by the police negotiating machinery, where the Home Office is represented, as well as in ministerial meetings with representatives of police staff and associations.

Has the Minister seen the recent findings released by the independent commission headed by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens? The findings show an alarming level of morale among police officers, with four out of 10 women police officers who responded saying that they had thought of quitting the force. Indeed, over three-quarters of the respondents said that they were pessimistic about the future of the service. Although the report focused specifically on women police officers, there is evidence to show that male officers are similarly affected by these issues, as indeed are police couples trying to combine their police duties with family responsibilities. Does the serious nature of these findings not demand an urgent and early response from the Government, so that these issues can be addressed and the situation can begin to improve, rather than deteriorate, as many police officers fear it will?

My Lords, I have seen the report, which was commissioned by the Labour party and conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens. I have to say that the statistics come from an online survey and so were somewhat self-selecting: we believe that those responding were more likely to be those who were disgruntled with their job. As regards the position of women in the police service, the noble Baroness ought to recognise that the retention rate for female police officers is something of the order of 95%, which is considerably higher than the retention rate for men in the police force. I would have thought that that indicates that women police officers are satisfied with their terms and conditions and that there are suitable policies for flexibility in all of the police forces in the country.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the independent police commission. I am sure that, when it comes out, the report will make very interesting reading. Women police officers have particular issues that they feel are not being addressed or considered seriously. Can my noble friend tell me how many forces have applied flexible working conditions and arrangements for women police officers? If he cannot tell me today, I will be happy to accept a written response.

I can give my noble friend an assurance that all 43 police forces have policies relating to flexibility in working. I repeat the statistic I gave earlier, that the retention rate for women in the police service is over 95%. That seems to indicate that there is considerable satisfaction with the terms and conditions that are on offer.

My Lords, if the Minister and the Government are under the impression that there is high morale in the police service at the moment, they are very seriously misjudging the truth of the facts on the ground. Police men and women fear for their terms and conditions and their pension entitlements. They feel that, on the one hand, the Government are forever praising our police service—in my view, quite rightly—for the tremendous way in which it fills the gaps, most recently in relation to the Olympics, but, on the other hand, seem to be pursuing a policy of at least threatening to downgrade the terms and conditions of police men and women. Are the Government not showing two faces on this?

My Lords, I echo the noble Lord’s praise for the police service, and thoroughly endorse it. However, I should also say that it is quite right that we look at police pay and conditions, which have not been properly examined for 30 years. That was the point behind the Winsor report. We believe that that report will provide a good basis for discussion and consultation. This area has not been looked at for 30 years, and we think that it is right to look at it again now.

My Lords, in the light of the security debacle mentioned by my noble friend Lord Grocott, does the Minister agree that when it comes to service, duty and commitment, public is quite often far preferable to private?

My Lords, that is another question. I praise the police force for all that it does. The noble Lord is a fine exemplar of the police service and we are proud to see him serving in this House as well. However, there are some areas where it is often better to use the private sector, and that is why we make use of it for such things as the security around sporting events. I do not think that the noble Lord would think that that would be a good use of police time or manpower.

My Lords, would my noble friend’s department be happy to give evidence to the Stevens commission on the recruitment and retention of women police officers?

If I heard my noble friend correctly, he asked whether we would be happy to give evidence. Of course we would.

Could the Minister make it absolutely clear—I am sorry; the noble Lord, Lord Elton, reminds me to keep my hands behind my back—that, where we have the Army, G4S and the police working together during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, it will be the police chief who has ultimate responsibility for issuing orders and dealing with disorder, and not G4S or the Army?

My Lords, as I made clear the other day, security is ultimately a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. However, in the event of there being a major incident, it will obviously be the police who will take charge of operational matters at that stage.

My Lords, the Government’s approach to millionaires, which is a tax cut of 5p in the pound, is in stark contrast to their approach to the working conditions of our police, on whom we all depend and whose morale is at a low ebb, despite what the Minister said. Do the Government still intend to introduce the controversial Winsor recommendations on regional pay and cut starting salaries for the police? Will the Minister give an undertaking that, for the rest of this Parliament, the Government will not preside over compulsory redundancies among front-line police officers?

I am not sure what the point behind the noble Lord’s first remark was, but I remind him that millionaires are probably paying higher rates of tax than at any point in the past 13 years—during a large number of which the party opposite was in government. On the second part of the noble Lord’s question, it would have helped if he had listened to my earlier answers, when I made it quite clear that the Winsor report was a very good basis for discussion. That is what we intend to do, because these matters have not been looked at for 30 years.