Police reject calls to seek union status: Federation shys from confrontation over proposed new discipline code

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The Independent Online
POLICE leaders yesterday stepped back from a direct confrontation with the Government over proposals for a new code to discipline lazy, incompetent and dishonest officers.

The Police Federation rejected calls for police to seek full trade union status, including the right to strike, at their annual conference, in Blackpool.

The federation, which represents 120,000 officers up to the rank of chief inspector in England and Wales, decided instead to launch a publicity campaign to fight plans for disciplinary reforms put forward by the Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke.

The federation claims the Home Office proposals will remove the special status of officers and leave them open to 'rough and ready' justice. Police morale would plummet to 'unprecedented depths'.

A motion debated yesterday would have instructed the leadership to press immediately for trade union rights if Mr Clarke persists in introducing new police discipline codes.

Earlier, the Home Secretary had described talk of police strikes as 'fanciful' and dismissed it as the talk of 'shopfloor enthusiasts'. He said proposed changes in the disciplinary code did not affect the status of officers.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Mr Clarke said: 'That does not totally divorce them from having sensible systems for holding someone to account when they misbehave; from having a sensible disciplinary system to get rid of a few people from the police service we are bound to get from time to time who are either not good enough or misbehave and let everybody down.'

The Home Secretary was personally attacked by several speakers. Mike Bennett, of the Metropolitan Police, called the Home Secretary, who addresses the conference today, an 'arrogant, rude, social snob'. He claimed putting him in charge of the police was 'like putting King Herod in charge of Mothercare'.

Mr Bennett denounced the new proposals as 'outrageous', but urged caution. 'How many of our members want full trade union rights and how many are prepared to initiate those rights? If you shake a stick, you have to be prepared to use it.'

Opponents of the move claimed it would bring the police to the status of other public service employees and leave them open to malicious complaints from criminals.

The federation's general secretary-elect, Lynn Williams, said trade union status should be sought if Mr Clarke's plans went ahead. 'If we are to be mere employees then we must and shall be accorded the rights and privileges enjoyed by other workers.' The federation is also seriously considering taking the Government to the European Court of Human Rights.

A strike by the fledgling National Union of Police and Prison Officers in 1918, in support of better pay and conditions, was the last time police officers took that form of industrial action.

The move led to a public inquiry and substantial improvements in conditions. The Police Act which followed a year later banned police officers from trade union membership. To avoid future confrontation, the Act also established the Police Federation to provide representation for officers to discuss pay, conditions and other concerns.