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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The Committee may be aware that members of the police force have always been excluded from the existing legislation which covers the employment of disabled peoplenamely, the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 and the quota scheme which is provided for in it. They are excluded because they are not employees as defined in that Bill: they are office holders. On the same basis, members of the police force are not covered by the employment provisions of this Bill.
It has been argued that the Bill provides employers with adequate assurances that they need only employ disabled people who are suitable for the job. Why then not cover the police? The public must be able to feel confident in those employed in jobs which impact on their security and safety and which have unusually demanding all-round requirements for fitness and stamina. We believe that there are exceptional circumstances which make it not in the public interest for refusal of employment or other treatment relating to disability to be subject to complaint to an industrial tribunal. Decisions on who to employ in such jobs must be left to those who have that responsibility.
Anyone who meets the entry criteria for the police service will be considered for appointment in the office of constable. However, the police are entitled to expect the highest standards of mental and physical fitness, and it would not be in the public interest that their judgment in these matters should be second-guessed by industrial tribunals.
The noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, does not seek to bring the police within the employment provisions of the Bill. Instead, he seeks to ensure that the police regulations meet the requirements of Part II of the Bill. That would simply shift the problem sideways, by opening up the prospect of challenge to the regulations by judicial review. Those regulations set out clear and justifiable conditions for appointment to the police force, but it is to Parliament that the Home Secretary must be accountable in choosing what those requirements should be, in his judgment of what the public interest requires. The noble Lord's amendment could also have the effect of requiring a wide range of reasonable adjustments to be provided for in the regulations. The Government simply could not accept that it would be appropriate to impose an obligation of that kind on the police force.
I understand some of the points that the noble Lord made, especially about police officers who are injured in the course of their service. However, decisions about continuing to employ such officers and how they could be employed should be treated in the same way as the original decisions as to who to employ and who to take on as a police officer. Those decisions should be left to the senior police officers who have that responsibility placed on them. I do not believe that it would be in the public interest to bring the police force within the scope of the Bill, either directly or indirectly via the course to which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, refers in his amendment.
Lord Carter: That is an extremely interesting answer. Perhaps the Minister will help me on this point. Does he agree that in America the situation is no less violent or difficult to police than in this country? In America they have disabled policemen. I have seen them working in wheelchairs. Will the noble Lord explain what seems so impossible? The situation can be handled well in America.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not sure about the American situation. I do not know whether or not they handle it well. However, in this country the situation is different. Certainly the police force in this country is markedly different from that in America. While it is interesting to look at what others do, I do not believe that we should necessarily follow them.
In our view it is not sensible to impose the same obligations on the police force as we impose on other employers, for the reasons that I mentioned: that the police force is a force of men and women who require high standards of mental and physical fitness. It is difficult to see how one could run a police force in which
No one knows at what point in time a police officer who appears to have a job well away from what I may call the front line may be called upon to do a front line activity. That is the bottom line. I speak with a little experience. My late father was a police officer as were two of my uncles.
One of the issues that we need to recognise is that legislation works best when it enshrines good practice. I believe that that would be generally accepted. One of the matters about which I am not sure from what the Minister said, is whether it is a requirement when a policeman becomes disabled that he be discharged; or are policemen and women who become disabled during their service career retained in employment as police officers in the discretion of their chief constables? We need to inquire about the practice in different police forces and whether employment of disabled people as police officers is currently in operation. How does the system work?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: There are two aspects to the issue. One relates to recruitment. I should have thought that my argument on recruitment is pretty well unanswerable. I believe that the public would rightly expect Parliament to retain that position.
With regard to those police officers who may become disabled during the course of their duty, or indeed because they find themselves with a disability arising from an illness of some kind, or through one of the various conditions about which we have spoken earlier, I believe that in general it should rightly be left to the chief constable to decide the nature of the disability, the rank and expertise of the officer and what can be done to help him to stay in the force if that seems the sensible way forward. To impose obligations along those lines on the force would be quite wrong.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I wish to pick up one phrase. The Minister said "impose obligations", but no one suggests that my noble friend's amendment should be taken out of the context of reasonable costs, suitability and all the other qualifications. It merely proposes that where, in a police constable's or police officer's view, the chief constable is not behaving reasonably in allowing that person to remain in the service, he should have the same rights as anyone else.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I have tried to explain that the police force has a different role to play. All police officers can be called upon to undertake all kinds of responsibilities, especially at moments where the police are under pressure such as in riots. It ought to be left to the chief constable to make those decisions. There
I return to the point that the police force is in a special circumstance a little like the Armed Forces of the Crown. I believe that it would be wrong to bring them within the compass of the Bill, either directly or indirectly.
Lord Gladwin of Clee: I am grateful to the Minister and other Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. I apologise if the wording of the amendment is flawed, but I sought to persuade the Minister and the Government to do something which they patently did not do in the other place. That is, to explain why this enormous service is excluded. When it comes to firemen, the Bill distinguishes between firefighters and people who serve in the fire service. There is reference to their contracts of employment. I do not see why we cannot make the same distinction in the civilian police service, in the Ministry of Defence police service and British Transport Police. The Minister made no reference to my question about the position of the British Transport Police under this legislation.
To pick up the point about my noble friend's curiosity, I understand the Minister's use of the word, but it is not curiosity as regards serving police officers. The answer to my noble friend is that it depends which police service one is with and the nature of the disability. It depends on how one got the disability; if it arises from some fairly high profile accident like a shooting or a car chase, the chances are that the officer will be kept on and found employment. It will certainly not be in the front line, but he will be accommodated. But if you contract a disease and become disabled, as the Minister saidas with the problems talked about todaythe chances are that you will lose your job.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, which I find deeply disappointing. Clearly, at this time of the morning we shall not divide the Committee; but there should have been consultation with the representatives of the police forces, police authorities, the chief police officer and the Police Federation. It seems that the service is totally excluded, not as regards recruitment but regarding the position of the police officer who is disabled in employment. I fail to understand why he should not have the same rights as are extended across the rest of the nation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.