The Defence Police Federation says it cannot understand why its officers are being ‘undervalued’ by being excluded from new legislation aimed at protecting police officers in law.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is bringing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – expected to include the introduction of the Police Covenant – before Parliament this week.
She says protecting officers from assaults and injury while they are on duty is one of her top priorities to reduce what she calls the ‘epidemic’ of attacks on officers.
The covenant will focus on officers’ and police staff members’ health and wellbeing and enshrine the support they receive in law.
However, the legislation only applies to Home Office forces in England and Wales and excludes non-home Office forces, such as the MOD Police, British Transport Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.
Protection for these forces will only be covered by a Memorandum of Understanding agreement (MOU) which won’t be enforceable in law.
DPF Federation Chairman Eamon Keating says he cannot understand the ‘deliberate’ decision to leave MOD officers out in the cold.
“The Police Covenant is a very welcome step towards the Government demonstrating how it values the police service,” he said.
“But what is disappointing is the legislation is limited to England and Wales and excludes non-Home Office forces when it should cover all policing.
“It’s sad they have taken a deliberate decision to limit the protection to one group of officers; when there are so many nationally who should be included.
“It shouldn’t be about geographical areas or individual forces. It’s not a cost issue – I cannot understand it; there’s no reason why we are separated from it.”
Eamon said the Federation and the MOD took part in the 8-week consultation behind the plans last year, but their comments have seemingly been ignored.
“We were asked for comments as were the MOD throughout the consultation process, and we responded to say we would very much welcome being included,” he said.
“But that wasn’t the route that was taken.
“I suppose the Home Secretary could say it’s her bill and her department and that she only has responsibility for England and Wales.
“But a simple change, a sentence in the bill so that it included all Secretaries of State with a policing responsibility would have drawn in all other forces into the legislation.”
Instead of being part of the Police Covenant, excluded forces are expected to design their own Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to bring them into line with the protections it offers.
However, the MOUs will not be enshrined in law.
“You could forgive our officers and those from other forces outside of the covenant for feeling undervalued,” Eamon said.
“They are being seen as second class; it’s disappointing and not necessary; there were easy ways to rectify this, but the Government has chosen not to do it.
“Unlike the pensions issue, they cannot claim they didn’t know about us and that we were left out by accident, this is a conscious decision, and it’s wrong that they have chosen to treat our officers differently,” Eamon added.
“No indication of how any MOU agreements will look have been confirmed by the Government, and if and when it comes in, the question remains how much weight will be behind it because it’s not law.”
The Federation is determined to pursue the issue and will carry on speaking with MPs, although Eamon fears it’s likely the legislation will pass without much harrying.
“It will go through Parliament where the Government has a majority,” he said.
“We will keep on having conversations with other affected Federations and MPs, but in reality, I wonder how much difference we’ll be able to make.
“I’d like to see the Government step back and at least ask themselves why they have excluded forces from the covenant when there was clearly an easy option to be inclusive of all police officers and forces.”