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9 Jan 2008 : Column 119WHcontinued
A final comment that I should like to put on the record concerns at least 10 Ministers whom I understand are also apparently deeply unhappy with the decision. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, will want to reveal the names of the Ministers who have expressed concern about the settlement, but it is clear that, even within the Government, there are people who are concerned about the decision.
Liberal Democrats were astounded when the Home Secretary decided not to honour the independent recommendations of the police arbitration tribunal, and it was disappointing to learn about the decision through a leaked document. We believe that the pay award should be backdated, so that it represents the agreed 2.5 per cent., not the 1.9 per cent. that the Government intend to pay. We are happy to put that spending pledge on the record. Often, the Government deploy lists of alleged spending pledges that we have not made, but we are happy to pledge that £30 million to £40 million and to put that on record.
Keith Vaz: Will the Minister give way?
Tom Brake: I am not the Minister yet, but I shall give way.
Keith Vaz: I am sorry I called the hon. Gentleman Minister, but I am sure that one day he will be. He is not simply making a spending pledge, but a spending pledge that is already in a budget.
Tom Brake: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for pointing out that I do not even have to make the spending pledge, because the money is already thereI withdraw the pledge.
The fact that the Police Federation is considering balloting its members on the right to strike demonstrates how inept the Home Secretarys handling of the situation has been. Again, people will have seen the press reports. There is growing support in the ranks of the police to have the ability to take industrial action and concern about what they describe as disgraceful Government tactics. We can understand their anger, because the Home Secretary says that she is happy to accept the 2.5 per cent. award, but goes on to refuse to backdate it, so it is no surprise that they are so concerned.
In her statement of 6 December 2006, the Home Secretary set out her reasons for dismissing the tribunals recommendations, and it is worth asking the Minister some questions about that. Specifically, in her statement, the Home Secretary said:
The index suggested by the PAT for the 2007 award could inform discussion and negotiation of the police officer pay award for next year.
Will the Minister explain exactly how the tribunal will inform discussion, when that will happen and what of the outcome? In the same statement, the Government said that they
will consult, in the near future, on proposals for implementing the necessary changes to the police pay machinery.[Official Report, 6 December 2007; Vol. 468, c. 95-96WS.]
Will the Minister set out in more detail what that might entail?
It is our view that the Home Secretary should honour the panels decision and, indeed, issue an apology for
the way in which the matter has been dealt with. The Prime Ministers involvement in the affair has been unhelpful. He stated that it was
in the national interest
that the payment is not made. However, it is equally clear that he has sought to distance himself from the matter by saying that, at the end of the day, the decision was taken by the Home Secretary. He went on to say:
People should look at the bigger picture...and the future of the British economy.
Perhaps he might reflect on the fact that, occasionally, we also need to look at the smaller picture and the detail of Government proposals.
As hon. Members will be aware, early-day motions on the matter have been signed. I am pleased to say that a majority of my colleagues signed early-day motions 494 and 512, and the Minister cannot have failed to notice that a large number of Labour Members signed them. They describe the settlement as unacceptable and say that it will make police recruitment more difficult and that refusing to agree to the settlement is petty and needless. The Minister needs to respond to that.
The absence of any support for the proposals indicates that he has a challenge on his hands. It is clear that the trust between the Government and police officers has been broken because of the Governments refusal to honour the arbitrated pay settlement. The Home Office can begin to repair the damage immediatelyvarious offers of mediation have been madeor it could do so at the stroke of the pen by signing up to the deal. Police officers could then concentrate on what they do best: making our streets a safer place. Will the Minister tell us whether the Home Office is big enough to acknowledge that it has made a mistake and to go against the man with the clunking fist, so that it can allow the pay deal to go through?
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on securing the debate, which is of such vital interest to the police service and, indeed, to the wider public.
Let us remind ourselves why the Home Office is in such a mess. The Government claim that their plans to extend three-year pay deals are an attempt to tackle inflation, but the fact is that the Government are running out of money. They have been forced to increase their borrowing to cover their costs. In March 2006, they said that they would borrow £30 billion in 2007-08. In March 2007, that estimate was increased to £35 billion, and in October, it increased again to £38 billion. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that the Government will borrow £42 billion this year.
I am not sure whether the Government have a credible pay policy that we can believe in. We hear of three-year deals, but hon. Members will have heard that before from the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. In September 2000, he spoke to the TUC about the need for long-term pay agreements and multi-year pay deals, which the Treasury repeated in December 2000. In June 2006, he called for a three-year pay freeze when he addressed the CBI, but none of that came to
pass, so I do not know what is the evidence for believing that he will deliver such measures in three years time.
The biggest sufferers and victims of the incompetent handling of the pay negotiations have been our policemen and women. They have suffered especially because of how the arbitration was handled: it was cack-handed, cynical and verged on the dishonest. The police feel that their noses have been rubbed in it, and we agree. The situation has been made more offensive in particular because Home Office Ministers have made no acknowledgement whatever of the special nature of police officers service to the public. Not only do they have a no-strike agreement and must submit themselves to restrictions in their personal lives when off duty, but they show great bravery and courage. As lay people, most of us would not have the guts to confront violent crime, drug crime and so on. They deliver amazing reassurance to the public day in, day out.
The sense of outrage is focused particularly on the fact that the police side said up front that they would abide by the police arbitration panels decision, whatever it might be. It is a shock to many of us that the Government did not honour their side in that implied agreement. The Home Secretary has broken trust, and it is virtually impossible to imagine her restoring it. Unfortunately, she was the Chancellors poodle when she should have been a strong defender of the police and standing up for them.
We have heard about the Kershaw minute of 29 Junean exercise in cynicism that is staggering even by Westminster standards. It was topped by the Home Secretarys letter on 30 November to the Chancellor. This is almost beyond belief. She stated:
We will have the moral high ground in moving away from the former...index.
The Tribunals findings provide a transitional public sector-facing index, which looks likely to generate decreasing settlements.
The arrangements for awarding police pay were good post-1979, in recognition of the particular work that officers do and the fact that they cannot take industrial action. If the official Opposition were running the Home Office, we would not have got into such a position. A Conservative Government would have treated the police fairly and honourably and would have given them the respect that they so clearly deserve. In 2006, for the first time, the Government did not honour those arrangements.
It is worth noting that the period since 1979, as my hon. Friends will agree, covers the 18 years of the last Conservative Government, during which they honoured the police pay agreement every single year. It would also be fair to sayI hope that the Minister takes this on boardthat some of the years under the Conservative Administration were years of very tough financial restraint, but that did not stop the Conservative Government making police pay a high priority.
It is a matter of the deepest regret, certainly among Conservative Members and the public beyond, that the same priorities that we saw to, abided by and adhered to in our 18 years of government do not appear to be governing the priorities of the current Administration. We say, therefore, that the time has come for all politicians of good will to look closely and urgently at
the need for new arrangements to make arbitration binding for those public servants who abide by no-strike agreements.
The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): This has been a very informed debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on initiating it and on the measured tone of his remarks overall. I want to discuss principally his speech in some detail and then come, as and when I can, to the interesting points made by other hon. Members.
It would be remiss of me if I did not start, whether it is appreciated or otherwisethe hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) is entirely wrong on thisby making it clear that we understand as a Government, and I certainly do, having been the Minister responsible for the police for nearly two years, the very special job that they do in defending our communities up and down the country day in, day out and week in, week out. It is quite low and remiss of the hon. Gentleman to suggest that Home Office Ministers have not made that abundantly clear over time. He was wrongI am sure that it was a slip of the tongueto suggest that somehow no deal was done or a deal was done in bad faith last year, and I will return to that point shortly.
At least one hon. Member mentioned the notion that there is a grand tradition going back 30 years that, every time this matter has gone to arbitration, the decision of the arbitration body has been met in full. Over the past 29 years, this matter has gone to arbitrationthis is, ironically, one of the strengths of the Edmund-Davies systemonce. The notion that there is a fine tradition, going back years, of arbitration decisions being met in full is simply not true. That once was last year. The arbitration panel said 3 per cent., and 3 per cent. was paid in full.
I am not detracting from some of the substantial points that hon. Members have made or from some of the substantial points that many authorities, serving police and certainly the Police Federation have made, but let us have the real debate on real issues and not something else. I guarantee that, if the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is ever in government at some future time, he will be here explaining why Edmund-Davies is no longer sufficient, as the arbitration panel did, and that we need to move to a new indexation system for police pay. That system is now called, rather clumsily, the PAT indexthe police arbitration tribunal indexand my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that it can and should be the basis for this years pay award, to answer a point that was made. Hon. Members should remember that we are talking about this years pay award, not the first award of the 2008 pay round for the public sector, but principally the last award of last year.
The point made by the hon. Gentleman for Baldry[Laughter.]I apologise. The hon. Gentleman now knows clearly who he is[Hon. Members: Banbury.] Banbury; thats right. The hon. Gentlemans point about this matter going wider and our being, in his terms, nasty to
a whole series of public sector workers throughout last years pay round was entirely unfair, for reasons that I will illustrate in a moment.
Keith Vaz: We will have the chance to repeat this debate to some extent tomorrow afternoon, when we consider the Home Affairs Committees report on police funding. Although I accept the point that the Minister is making, I think that hon. Members are making the point that, over the past 30 years, certainly since Edmund-Davies, all previous Home Secretaries have honoured the agreements that have been made and have not done what the current Home Secretary has done, which is to ask the Treasurys permission first. That is the point. We have to look back to the time of Edmund-Davies to find a dispute of this kind.
Mr. McNulty: One does not; one has only to go back to last year, when the tribunals decision was met in full. My point was simply about the notion suggested by some, but not all, hon. Members that at any time over the past 30 years when this matter has gone to arbitration, binding on both sidesas hon. Members have expressed, but not the Home Secretarythe Home Secretary has accepted the decision in full. I am thinking of both the police negotiating bodys recommendations and any tribunals recommendations to the Home Secretary. The matter has not gone to arbitration in any case other than last year. That is by the bye, anyway.
People have said, quite fairly, that recommendations are simply made to the Home Secretary, even under Edmund-Davies, and I accept what people say about the broader spirit of this. I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington said in the middle of his speech about the federation certainly being minded to sit down with the Government to discuss a whole host of issues beyond pay andto quote, I think, my hon. Friendto move considerably forward on a whole range of issues, pay notwithstanding. I congratulate the federation on that.
However, I do not accept that the decision on last years pay will have come as a shock. I was rebuked in March last year for saying in a written ministerial statement that the first part of Booths report that recommended an indexation more closely aligned to the public sector than Edmund-Davies would somehow curtail the ability of the police negotiating body to make its deliberations. The previous Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), was rebuked when he wrote to the police negotiating body saying that it was directed, as were its standing committees, to reach agreement on deliverable options for the award. He said:
Agreed options will need to secure an outcome consistent with the achievement of the CPI inflation target
the 2 per cent. target referred to in the previous paragraph
the governments wider objectives as set out above, and the further modernisation of police pay arrangements. Options for discussion should include, but need not be limited to, staging or otherwise modifying the award,
as happened with most pay review body recommendations this year. That relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about last years pay round.
So a clear indication was given in April 2007 to all involved in the negotiating body, on both the staff and
official side, that staging was at least a consideration. There is a notion that this came out because of what had gone on with all the other public sector pay awards that had been announced, but it is unfair to suggest that staging was never going to be an item on the agenda.
None the less, the decision is not easy and is not taken lightly by the Home Secretary or the Government, including any other Ministers dealing with other members of the public sector. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlingtonbut I do take the forewarningabout us being anywhere near the conditions that prevailed in the 1970s. I admit that I was still at school then, but I have read detailed accounts from many observers of how we got to a stage at which the police servicepolice forceswere in a really parlous state because of a range of factors, such as low pay, recruitment, morale and retention.
I disagree firmly with my hon. Friends notion that we are complacent and think that such conditions will never come back again. It is a serious warning and one that I take very seriously in my role. I do not take the positionI think fairly outlined to the arbitration panel and agreed by itthat recruitment and retention are certainly not areas of concern. I do not demur from the notion that they might be concerns if we do not remain alive to the issues. The point about six applicants for every one job happens to be a matter of fact that the arbitration tribunal agreed to.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?
I do not agree, either, that all those other elements comparing the police to other parts of the public sector were complacent or dismissive of what the police service does, for reasons that I have outlined. The Home Office simply put its case in numbers to the arbitration panel. I would say to hon. Members who have not read the outcome of the arbitration panel that all aspects, pretty much, were agreed to by the arbitration tribunal, as was the principle, at least, of the new index. That is important, too.
There is no complacency at all. The Police Federation, entirely fairly, asked for 3.9 to 4 per cent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington suggested, it said, fairly in its terms, that 1.03 per cent. of that would cover what it regarded as a transition to a more level playing field: effectively, the additional cost to its members of a transition from Edmund-Davies to a new index. The arbitration panel, not the Home Office, said clearly that it was not convinced about the 1.03 per cent. element in terms of a level playing field; nor were the Government.
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