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9 Jan 2008 : Column 113WH—continued

3.24 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I have three observations to make. I have rehearsed with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), whom I again congratulate, the issue of police authorities. One would have thought that they at least would have been among the happier stakeholders in this apparently disastrous decision, yet they must now deal with very unhappy—not to use stronger terms—police forces.

My first substantive point is that, from what was happening last year, when I had the opportunity to chair a meeting with the Police Federation, like my hon. Friend this year—it is good to hear that other hon. Members were able to get to the meeting—and given that it appeared then that confrontation was going to arise, I do not understand how this was not a disaster waiting to happen. To be fair to the fed, which is fairly well known as a pretty tough negotiator, it made it abundantly clear to those of us who attended the meeting a year ago that it was prepared to consider new structures on pay. Pensions and conditions were a different matter, but pay was on the agenda. I know that the Government set up the Booth inquiry to consider how to start the process, but, as we have learned from today’s debate in the House, kicking away the legs of the stool on which we are basing the edifice of how the negotiations are going to proceed will not lead, as my hon. Friend said, to an overwhelming feeling of trust. I am worried that we are not in a good environment in which to start to get things right for next year—because the negotiations for next year’s pay settlement are about to start, and my right hon. Friend the Minister may wish to say something about that. I worry that we have caused immense damage.

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My second point is that if the e-mails, letters, phone calls and individual meetings that I have had are anything to go by, people are very angry. Hon. Members who have worked in the public sector sometimes underestimate the reaction of the public sector; we expect it to be able to take such things. The reaction has been such that it will take at least a generation of police officers—notwithstanding what may come out of future arrangements—to rebuild trust. It is easy to make party political points, and I will make points about the Government, but this is not just about party politics; it is about people’s general distress about the political process.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I apologise for not being present at the debate from its beginning, but I was in the main Chamber, where an amendment that I had tabled was to be debated. My hon. Friend mentioned his e-mails and letters, and I think that many other hon. Members have had the same experience. Can he think of another occasion when he has had so many communications from serving police officers? I cannot.

Mr. Drew: Not only can I not think of a comparable occasion involving police officers; I cannot even think of a parallel with teachers, health workers or others in the public sector, such as probation officers, to mention a category relevant to criminal justice, when there has been such a depth of anger in the reaction to what is seen as a great injustice.

I can comment on recruitment, because—I declare an interest in this respect—for the past two years and more my son has been trying, in two different police areas, to enter the police force. It is not a substantive matter for this debate, but it is unjust to use the idea that people want to join the police, so the pay can be deflated. I could spend a long time explaining some other issues in relation to that process, but it is wrong to use that argument to justify keeping people’s pay down. Given the age profile of the police force at the moment, we need lots of new recruits, and it will not do us any good to try to depress pay, let alone to make it apparently less worth while entering such an important job, which we would be silly not to value greatly.

My final point is about something that my chief constable said to me last week; I hope that he does not mind me talking about it. He said that the way in which the police negotiating board has operated recently is very disappointing. Arbitration might be the appropriate backstop, but if it is entered into as it was in this situation, and as it has been before, as being the only way forward, and then the Government decide not to meet the arbitration award in full, there is much feeling that the whole area of pay negotiation is entirely wrong. Given what I have been told about the process and the police negotiation body, about the lack of preparation and unwillingness to listen to individual police authorities, I worry that this was a disaster waiting to happen. It is not appropriate for the Government, as a party to arbitration, to fail to fulfil the arbitration process. There are a number of issues to consider, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will give us some sense that even if we got it wrong this year, things will be improved in the future. Otherwise, there will be even more hurt, and that is unacceptable.

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3.31 pm

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on securing this important debate. I shall keep my comments brief, because I know that hon. Friends and other colleagues wish to speak.

May I begin by praising Shrewsbury police for their tremendous work? I have always found them to be extremely dedicated and hard-working. Shropshire is a rural community and, as many hon. Members will know, it is not easy to police rural areas, because there is a large area to cover. Shropshire police are extremely courageous and professional. One of the worst things to happen to my community in the two-and-a-half years in which I have been an MP took place last year. A serving police officer was shot dead in Shrewsbury, and that had a profound impact on the whole town: I have never seen our community come together as strongly as it did then. It has not been mentioned that policemen and women put their lives at risk on a daily basis to protect us. That is why so many of us are angry about, and feel insulted by, the below-inflation pay award. West Mercia police authority is one of the worst funded authorities in the whole of England, but it achieves one of the best results, which shows just how dedicated and hard-working our officers are.

Like the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), I have received an inordinate number of e-mails on this issue. Two Sundays ago—I was at home looking after my baby daughter, and I happened to be working that afternoon—I received 89 e-mails on it. I rarely receive 89 e-mails on any single issue, even over a long period of time, but I received that number in just one day. So far, I have received more than 230 e-mails and letters on the matter. I reiterate that it is not only the police who feel strongly about this. Many councillors and people in our community have approached me about it.

The Scottish police have received their full pay award. I mentioned that earlier, but the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington clearly did not want to be dragged into the West Lothian question. As someone who believes passionately and fundamentally in the Union—this is where I disagree with the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil)—I must put on the record how appalled and outraged I am about the matter. The fact that different police officers on the same grade in the same country can be given different pay is appalling.

Mr. Devine: The hon. Gentleman should realise that in the run-up to last year’s election, the Scottish National party stated that it would recruit 1,000 extra police, but it has now reneged on that pledge.

Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Gentleman knows that the debate is about police pay, not police numbers. He is throwing me a red herring.

We all know about the huge increases that everyone has to face with petrol prices, oil for heating homes and council tax going up: everything is going up above 2 per cent. A below-inflation pay rise will simply make police officers’ lives more difficult. A lot of people come to see me in my surgery about personal debt, which is a serious and growing problem. It is increasingly difficult for police officers with young families to make ends meet, and the pay award does nothing to help them. I
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conclude by putting this on the record: I shall not vote for any MPs’ pay award above 1.9 per cent., because I cannot look any of my constituents who are police officers in the eye and say, “You will stick to 1.9 per cent., but I should have more than that.” That would be totally inappropriate.

3.36 pm

Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on securing the debate, not least because I applied for a debate on the same subject. Having been unsuccessful in securing it, I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the issue.

I pay tribute to, and thank, Alan Cooper, the chief superintendent from south Manchester, who has just moved to a new job. He has shown real commitment to south Manchester and will be sorely missed in our community. However, I wonder whether someone of his calibre would have chosen not to remain in the police force if he had been faced with last year’s debacle some years ago. Would he have gone down another path of employment if he had felt, earlier in his career, that he was not valued? How many more Alan Coopers will we lose in the coming months and years as a result of the breakdown in morale among the police?

Everyone knows what a tough job the police face every day. They receive little credit when things go right and are roundly criticised when things go wrong. They are effectively never off duty and face restrictions on where they can live. In Greater Manchester, we have experienced cuts in police officer numbers, even though Labour Governments have increased the number of offences since 1997 by more than 3,000, thus giving the police more work to do. For the job that they are asked to do, they are not well paid; indeed, they are poorly paid.

Before Christmas, I was invited to a meeting of the Greater Manchester branch of the Police Federation at which members were invited to question a panel that included the chief constable, Michael Todd, and the chair of the police authority, Councillor Paul Murphy. Given concern at the time about the impending pay review by the independent arbitration panel, I expected police pay to be the No. 1 issue, but it was not—it was the last issue on people’s minds. Serving police officers were more concerned about policing the streets of Greater Manchester than about their salaries. The big issues raised that evening were the future of the dog-handling service in Greater Manchester and concerns about the Government’s drive to replace police officers with police community support officers.

The police are committed and dedicated to their jobs. They have agreed to be bound by independent arbitration, and the Home Secretary’s decision not to honour the agreement is a kick in the teeth for every serving police officer. Will the Minister explain what the point of independent arbitration is if the Home Secretary does not abide by its decision? Will he also give us his opinion on the question of why the Government believe that the police are not worth their pay rise? When I met union representatives from the Greater Manchester branch of the Police Federation, with my Liberal Democrat colleagues from Greater Manchester, they made clear the impact of the situation on the morale of serving
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police officers, and said that more and more officers were considering leaving the service. They pointed out that Greater Manchester police could afford to pay the full increase proposed by the independent arbitration panel, as it had been budgeted for in the GMP budget. They also highlighted the fact that civilian staff and community support officers will receive a bigger percentage increase than police officers as a result of the Home Secretary’s actions. Perhaps the Minister can tell us if that is fair. The Labour Government should be ashamed of the way in which they are treating our police, who deserve better.

3.40 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made an excellent and comprehensive speech. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) that it is not just this year that police pay is an issue. There were considerable concerns last year, when a decision was made at the last minute. The police were concerned about how things were handled then. This year, of course, the issue is the failure to honour the recommendation of the police arbitration tribunal.

We all fully understand the need for restraint in pay settlements if we are to keep inflation down. We also understand that the police are in a special position of responsibility. The very nature of their role in maintaining law and order requires absolute loyalty and, therefore, they are not in a position to resort to strike action. For that reason, it is essential that police pay is determined by an independent body that can make appropriate comparisons and a recommendation that is fair and objective. We would all expect the outcome of the police arbitration tribunal to be binding. It may not be legally so, but there is a long tradition of accepting such recommendations. That is why the police are angry. It is not just the police who are angry. Many members of the public have expressed considerable concern that the Home Secretary has refused to honour obligations by not accepting the recommendation.

I have the good fortune to enjoy an excellent relationship with my local police force, which tries hard to make neighbourhood policing a reality. They have supported me in surgeries with local residents, and they willingly tackle the problems that residents raise. They play a proactive role in deprived communities by tackling the causes of crime. In addition, they have duties dealing with all manner of difficult and dangerous situations. The Home Secretary’s decision will undermine the good will on which much of the implementation of such strategies depends. I draw the Minister’s attention to the olive branch proffered by Jan Berry, who said that it is not too late to make amends. I urge the Minister and the Home Secretary to reconsider their decision on police pay. I urge them to have the courage to acknowledge the fact that their first decision was ill advised, and to give full consideration to accepting the recommendation of the police arbitration tribunal.

3.42 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): As the secretary of the all-party police group, I am glad to be able to take part in this debate, which is not just about police pay but about pay for various key groups in the public sector: police officers, teachers, nurses and prison officers.
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The Government want to give the impression that this is all about inflation, and that there are echoes of Jim Callaghan. I was a parliamentary candidate back in the days of the Callaghan Government and the Lib-Lab pact, when inflation was an eye-watering 21 per cent. Today, it is 2.1 per cent., so the Government action in capping pay for public workers has nothing to do with inflation but everything to do with their urgent need to balance the books. If, as anticipated, the economy continues to slow down, the underlying state of the Government’s bank balance and finances will become even more obvious.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), the shadow Chancellor, put it very clearly yesterday when responding to the Prime Minister’s suggestion of three-year pay deals. He stated:

The people who will pay most for the Government’s financial incompetence are key public sector workers. The Chancellor’s proposed three-year pay deals will affect only the 5.5 million workers on the public payroll. There might be some justification for that if public sector pay were racing ahead of private sector salaries, but that is no longer the case. The most recent figures on the record show that private pay is rising faster than public pay, and the Government have broken various implied contracts with public sector workers.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): On pay, does my hon. Friend agree that the Thames valley force has a particular retention problem, and that the Government would be well advised to review the rate at which the south-east allowance is paid?

Tony Baldry: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It strikes me that recruitment and retention will not be helped by the Government’s action.

There is a covenant: in return for employees not taking industrial action, or being prevented in some instances by statute from take industrial action, the Government have put in place various independent pay review bodies. Independence must surely mean just that—independence—and it must be inherent in any such process that both sides accept the outcome and recommendations of any independent pay review body or arbitration service. It seems that the Government have decided unilaterally to accept the recommendations of independent pay review bodies only if they do not breach whatever arbitrary, overall target the Government have decided to set for public sector pay. That is simply a crude cap on public sector pay.

Moreover, I am afraid that the Government speak with a forked tongue. Yesterday, the Home Secretary promised that any three-year deal with the police would be implemented in full. If that is the case, why can she not honour the proposed independent review pay award in full? In effect, staggering the pay rise for police officers reduced a pay award of 2.5 per cent. to 1.9 per cent. It is little surprise that the Police Federation called on the Home Secretary to resign. The total cost of honouring the police pay round in full is some £30 million. I cannot help but note that the National Audit Office found that the Home Office wasted £33 million
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in my constituency alone on an aborted proposal for an accommodation centre for asylum seekers at Bicester. Not a sod was turned nor a brick laid, yet somehow the Home Office ended up spending £33 million. Police officers are being short-changed because of the incompetence of Home Office Ministers. Why on earth should they believe the Home Secretary when she says that the Government would implement in full any three-year settlement when the Government have chosen not to honour an existing public sector pay claim?

It is not just police officers. Nurses’ pay increases were staggered to make their pay increase worth 1.9 per cent., and an independent recommendation to award prison officers a 2.5 per cent. pay rise in April was rejected by the Government and replaced with an offer of 1.9 per cent. That is a breach of compact and covenant by the Government. It is bad personnel management and bad human relations, and it is miserably unfair that key public sector workers should be treated in that way.

3.47 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on expressing his concerns—in fact, our concerns—so clearly. I echo the praise that has been expressed by several Members and, I am sure, thought by all Members for the essential role that police officers play in keeping us safe. I feel sorry for the Minister, who, clearly, is extremely isolated. No one has spoken in favour of the proposal. There will simply be the Minister responding, and he will have to speak on behalf of the Government.

Mr. MacNeil: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Minister has perhaps been unfairly treated in that the wrong Department is represented here? Perhaps the Treasury should be answering our questions.

Tom Brake: I am sure that the Minister will do a good job of defending himself and, indeed, the Treasury.

All Members have been bombarded with comments by police officers, their families and other members of the public who are concerned about the issue. I shall quote briefly from two e-mails that I received:

Another e-mail from a constituent in Wallington states:

the Home Secretary—

I am sure that other Members can quote similarly concerned and alarmed e-mails and letters from their constituents.

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