Police Pay

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:54 pm on 9th January 2008.

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Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 3:54 pm, 9th January 2008

I congratulate 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 year's 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 panel's 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 Chancellor's 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 June—an exercise in cynicism that is staggering even by Westminster standards. It was topped by the Home Secretary's 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".

It gets worse:

"The Tribunal's 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 say—I hope that the Minister takes this on board—that 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.

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David Cropper
Posted on 13 Jan 2008 12:08 am (Report this annotation)

The Home Office IS in a mess - and we knew that before John Reid told us. Remember 'not fit for purpose'? It has failed miserably over the last 10+ years on crime prevention, crime punishment, 'not fit for purpose' prisons and not enough, immigration control particularly letting in known professional gangsters, drugs, motorists without licenses and insurance etc etc.