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Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [28 February],

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Line 31, at end add--
'( ) The committee shall have power to appoint a sub-committee, which shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to report to the committee from time to time.--[Mr. Keith Bradley.]

Hon. Members: Object.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [31 January],

Hon. Members: Object.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [23 January],

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Line 40, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.--[Mr. Keith Bradley.]

Hon. Members: Object.

1 Mar 2001 : Column 1139


Motion made,

(1) this House approves the First Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 2000-01 (HC 47); and
(2) the Resolution of 5th June 1996 on the Language of Parliamentary Proceedings be amended accordingly by inserting, after the word 'Wales,', the words 'and at Westminster in respect of Select Committees'.--[Mr. Keith Bradley.]

Hon. Members: Object.

1 Mar 2001 : Column 1140

Metropolitan Police

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Keith Bradley.]

7.11 pm

Ann Keen (Brentford and Isleworth): I am delighted to have the opportunity to debate the terms and conditions of service of the Metropolitan police. Hon. Members are well aware of the fundamental changes that have taken place in the police service throughout the United Kingdom, which have affected every police officer's duties and hours and the structure of their jobs.

We have come a long way after seven years of declining police numbers, and we have finally turned the story round. In the six months to September 2000, we had 444 extra police officers, not fewer. Assaults on police have decreased. Funding for the Metropolitan police has finally increased. There is more need than ever to address the practical realities of being a police officer today.

As we watched the terrible scenes at Selby over the past couple of days, similar to the recent scenes at Paddington, we must have appreciated that our police officers are engaged in the most terrifying of incidents. We must accept that they are individuals, parents and partners. They have families, and when they witness such scenes they must go home to take on their familial roles. That is not easy. Police officers have responsibilities, and if we do not treat them fairly, we will lose their valuable service.

I wish particularly to address the scale of the problem in London. The front-line police officer, normally young and relatively inexperienced, is providing a first-class service to the public of London in very demanding times. Since publication of the Macpherson report, the Metropolitan police have taken great steps forward in their efforts to improve that service to all sections of the London community. It was recently announced that the force had addressed all the report's recommendations.

To coin a modern phrase, a police officer's lot is not a happy one. The conditions of service of the modern police officer have suffered, particularly since the 1994 publication of the Sheehy report, commissioned by Kenneth Clarke, when he was Home Secretary. Michael Howard, the Home Secretary at the time of publication, abolished the housing allowance--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): Order. The hon. Lady must not refer to right hon. Members by name.

Ann Keen: I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Home Secretary at the time of publication abolished the housing allowance paid to police officers, which had for many years been seen as an essential part of the remuneration package by the Police Federation, supported by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. In many cases, that led to police officers receiving thousands of pounds less than their counterparts who had joined before September 1994.

For a number of years, there has been a decline in police numbers throughout the country. In London, however, the shortage has been more acute, with the loss of more than 2,000 officers since 1992. The situation may

1 Mar 2001 : Column 1141

worsen. At a recent meeting of the Greater London Authority budget committee, Sir John Stevens said that over the next five years one third of London's police officers and two thirds of the support staff will be eligible to retire from the service. He suggested that ways must be found to encourage them to remain and continue to provide a service to the city of London.

I should like to give an example of a long-serving officer in my area, the borough of Hounslow. Police Constable John Collins has given more than 30 years' service and was rightly awarded the MBE recently for his commitment and work in the community. He joined the police force at 19. He will be 55 this year, and he wants to stay on. He really wants to continue his work in crime prevention, for which he is well known. He has a supportive chief superintendent in Mike O'Brien, who values his service. Constable Collins would like to stay on until the age of 60. He would like to know now that he can do so in order to plan his family life and look forward to his eventual retirement. When someone has done more than 30 years of active service in the police force, it is admirable to want to stay on, and his skills are much needed in crime prevention.

We must recognise the skills of experienced officers in mentoring inexperienced young officers. At the moment, younger officers have only a limited time in which they can benefit from mentoring by older and more experienced officers. We must recognise the work of experienced officers if we wish them to stay and we must be flexible in our approach to the work of our police force.

We have all seen the excellent police recruitment advertisements in the past year. People were asked whether they could deal with a violent incident, a road traffic accident or breaking bad news. We have experienced officers who can do that. In this very House, Sergeant Les Lenaghan, an officer with more than 30 years' experience, told me recently of the need for flexibility, especially on pensions. The pension structure is restrictive, and the police officer's pension provides little if any financial incentive to stay on. Morale can then fall, and we need the Government to provide confidence that when the pension review that has been discussed for some time takes place, it will not be divisive and damaging.

A great deal of work has to be done to create confidence among our police officers and make them feel truly valued. In addition, we must find ways to encourage more recruits into the service and, once they are recruited, to retain them. The obvious way is to provide better rewards for front-line duties, perhaps by way of a shift allowance. At present, officers who provide 24-hour policing to the people of London are paid at the same rate as those who protect buildings. Protecting us is serious work, but it is not quite the same as front-line work out on the streets of London.

The return of the housing allowance would at the stroke of a pen boost the morale of today's young police officers. It would encourage Metropolitan police officers to remain in London rather than bring up their families elsewhere. It goes without saying that that would also attract more recruits. Police numbers are rising in London. The last intake at Hendon was 200 and the next is likely to be 250. That follows the introduction of a new London allowance for post-1994 recruits of £3,327 last year, but more needs to be done.

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I was pleased to be able to take part in a debate that encouraged people to re-examine retirement. I was pleased that our Minister stated on 14 February that the Government

Well, that is business, and the police service is different. Police officers are not employees; they are appointed as police constables. The regulations governing the police were looked at in 1918 and more recently in 1995. I suggest that they need to be reviewed.

We have been made aware of the haemorrhage that is about to occur in our great capital in the next four to five years. We cannot say that we did not have the time to plan and make changes that could bring about a flexible retirement approach for valued officers who have given so much service.

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