Replying to Judy Mallaber, MP for Amber Valley in Derbyshire, where last year 65% of police officers retiring did so on grounds of ill-health, minister of state Alun Michael said she was right to draw attention to the problem and the need to control medical retirements because the pensions being paid out of police resources meant a reduction in resources available to that police force.
He added: 'The variations are extremely large: in 1996-97, 16% of all police retirements were on medical grounds, whereas the figure in Merseyside was 77%. Merseyside has reduced the figure by 23% in the intervening period, so it is clear that police forces can manage the problem and increase their own resources by doing so'.
Junior minister George Howarth told Geraint Davies, Labour MP for Croydon Central, the government would consult fully on specific changes it proposed to the pension arrangements for new entrants or to medical retirement procedures. It was of concern where officers who had taken premature retirement on medical grounds subsequently took another form of employment.
Mr Howarth agreed the problem with pension schemes was that they were not fully funded. He urged patience until the government published its proposals.
Mr Michael emphasised: 'In the case of early and ill-health retirement, the burden falls on the finances available generally, because this is not a funded scheme. Policing can be dangerous. It involves shift working in all weathers, often featuring high levels of stress and physical activity. There are reasons for the large number of early retirements, but the variations in the proportion of, in particular, ill-health retirements across the country show no correlation with the size and nature of the force.
'There are serious questions about the quality of management in some police forces, and we shall be considering them continually over the coming years'.