This is the text of a speech Sir George made in the House of Commons on police pay:
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on his good fortune in securing this debate and on the moderate way in which he made his case. Before Christmas, he and I, along with half a dozen colleagues, met the Police Federation, and we agreed to request this debate. I am therefore delighted that his name came out of the hat. When the Minister responds, I hope that he will not use the abundance-of-recruits argument as a defence. If that argument were applied to ministerial salaries, he might find his standard of living somewhat depressed.
In Hampshire, there is real anger with the Government. The chairman of the Hampshire branch of the Police Federation wrote to me on 17 December:
“I cannot explain to you the anger and sense of betrayal that the 3700 officers I represent are expressing at the moment as a result of the decision of Jacqui Smith. The manner in which the Home Secretary has managed this whole process is being seen as underhand and disingenuous...Never before has a Home Secretary reneged on an agreed pay award.”
He went on to refer to
“the principle of honouring the findings of the independent tribunal which the staff associations agreed to be bound by.”
As a former member of the police parliamentary scheme, I have seen at first hand what officers do, and I believe that they are entitled to every penny of the proposed increase. When Parliament removes from employees a right that is available to nearly everyone else, it must ensure that those employees are fairly dealt with by their employer, particularly if the employer is the Government, who are in turn accountable to the House of Commons.
Let us examine briefly the arguments deployed against paying the settlement in full. The Government Departments on the official side said that they did not support the proposal on the grounds that
“the offer will not produce an outcome consistent with the UK government objectives including achievement of the CPI inflation target of 2 per cent. and affordable and sustainable pay awards.”
However, there are exceptions to the 1.9 to 2 per cent. ruling. Hospital doctors will get a flat £1,000, worth 3 per cent. for the newly recruited. Permanent secretaries are going to get a flat 2 per cent. next month. Larger rises of 9.2 per cent., as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington mentioned, were awarded to about 13,000 of Britain’s lowest paid squaddies, in a move applauded by military chiefs, who had campaigned for that. A further 6,000 members of the armed forces will benefit from rises of more than 6 per cent. All other ranks and officers will get a 3.3 per cent, increase, with the exception of the most senior. I mention that not to begrudge those groups their increases, but simply to make the point that 1.9 per cent. is not a hard and fast rule, and there have been many exceptions.
The other leg of the argument is the consumer prices index inflation target. The impact on next year’s council tax bills will be exactly the same, whether the payment is staged or not. It is necessary to meet the full increase, so there will be no saving in the impact on the RPI. Nor does staging affect the headline rate, which remains the same; it just becomes the headline a few months later. Nor will this year’s council tax bill be reduced retrospectively by any saving. The money will simply be spent on something else. As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, most authorities have pencilled in the increase, and have the resources to pay it, so the argument that somehow it would push up costs does not hold water. If it is true that there was a trade-off in the public expenditure negotiations along the lines of “If you, the Home Office, show restraint on pay, we will give you extra money and another part of your bid,” that blows out of the water any deflationary argument that the Government might deploy.
Mr. MacNeil: We are essentially talking about inflationary pressure. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the unexpected extra £3 billion that the Chancellor is pulling in from fuel duty is a greater inflationary pressure on society than the £30 million he might give to police in England and Wales?
Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point: the rise in the fuel price has given the Chancellor money for which he did not budget, so to that extent resources are available that he can deploy in that context, with little impact on his original forecast. I think that the Government have the worst of both worlds. They have betrayed an important group of employees for zero impact on inflation.
My final point is that the Government have made a political mistake. Previous Home Secretaries—particularly the somewhat larger ones—would have had a confrontation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and would not have agreed to the demand to stage. That would then have escalated into the Cabinet. At that point I suspect that Tony Blair and the Cabinet would have sided with the Home Secretary; the increase would have gone through and the Government would have avoided the pickle that they are in. We are paying the price for the Prime Minister still believing that he is Chancellor, and the absence of substantial counterweights in the Cabinet. My view is that if the present Home Secretary had dug in her heels and threatened to resign over this she would have won. She would have been unsackable in the first few weeks after her appointment if had she made an issue out of it. The Government have made a political and economic mistake that I believe they will live to regret.