My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister met representatives of the Police Federations for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who constitute the Staff Side of Committee C of the Police Council on 7th March and requested them to return to the Police Council to settle their claim. A meeting of the Police Council took place on 15th March. The representatives of the Police Federation for Scotland attended but the representatives of the Federations for England and Wales and Northern Ireland refused the invitation. Sir John Nightingale, the Chairman of the Police Council, has undertaken to examine with the Police Federations and other interested parties means of settling the dispute. One meeting has already taken place and another has been arranged. I very much hope that these discussions will lead to a resolution of these difficult issues at a time when other organisations are putting their minds to phase 3.
Is not the Home Secretary aware that the police feel that their dedication to duty is taken for granted and that it is a weightless factor in negotiations, notwithstanding the social contract? Is he also aware that the police feel that the Home Secretary has broken faith with them and that all they have got from the Prime Minister is a promise of jam tomorrow and a lecture on the economy? In view of the state of the economy, the rise in unemployment and the current inflation rate, does not the Home Secretary realise the importance of the police having faith in him and the Government?
All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that in 1975, when pay policy started, I was present in the Cabinet when the police were given 30 per cent. instead of £6. That was done on the basis that the police needed special attention. Anyone who says the contrary to that is flying in the face of the facts. They were given special attention. What has been wrong since I have been Home Secretary is that people have not attended the proper negotiating machinery. How one negotiates when people are not sitting around the table is something that eludes me.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is still open to the Police Federation to go back to the joint negotiating body to discuss ways of changing the negotiating procedure and talk about some adjustment to fringe benefits?
That is so. However, I understand the problem of the Police Federation and the negotiating machinery, but apart from discussing the 5 per cent., £2·50 and a maximum of £4 a week we have discussed three forward commitments with it—all marginal, I accept—and other matters concerning widows of police officers who died in service, and commutation. We have promised a review of police negotiating machinery, including the constitution of the Police Federation.
I should like to point out—the facts of the matter ought to be made clear—that in the arrangements within the police forces rent allowances are increased every two years. Effectively they are not subject to tax. It is right that the police should be in the situation. However, I do not think people realize the increases in rent allowance that are being made for police forces at present.
I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.
Is the Home Secretary aware that it is unrealistic of him to indicate, as he seemed to be doing in his reply, that there should be a return to the existing negotiating machinery, because it has failed badly in the past? Does he not realise that the initiatives in this matter are now firmly in the Prime Minister's court and that it is idle to blame anyone else?
The local authorities, which pay a substantial part of the money for police pay, are not amused by the attitude of some that they should be left out of negotiations that are laid down by statute. The people of the local authorities belong not to one political party but to many. I have to take into account the statutory arrangements. I have said that I understand the position of the Police Federation, but I want to find a means of negotiating. Things are happening now in that respect, but negotiation there must be.
The House knows of my interest in this subject. We are now facing a very serious situation. Will the Home Secretary accept that there is not much time left before the moderate leaders of the Police Federation are replaced by those who would follow the bad example of other occupations and perhaps take industrial action in order to pursue this claim? Will the right hon. Gentleman bend his mind above all else to avoiding what would be a disaster for the nation if that were to happen? He can settle the matter, and I believe that he ought to do so.
The hon. Member, who is involved in these discussions, says that I can settle the matter. By that he means, I suppose, that I should break the pay policy. If he does not mean that, let us negotiate. Then one can negotiate within pay policy, but that is not being done at the moment except at the fringes. I am happy to help in any way I can, but I cannot ignore the local authorities, which have a statutory part to play.