HC Deb 06 March 1906 vol 153 cc379-88

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the Second Reading of the Police Superannuation Bill, said that this was another small Departmental Bill which, in its greater part, the present Government had inherited from their predecessors. It was uncontroversial and involved no large question of principle. At present the cost of police superannuation was heavy and was a rapidly increasing burden on public funds. Ten years ago it amounted to £578,000, but in 1904–5 it amounted to over £900,000, of which only £100,000 came from the police. £300,000 came from the Exchequer, £300,000 from the rates, and £200,000 from interest on capital, certain fines, fees, etc. To diminish the scale of pension was not desirable; but police authorities had suggested a method of lightening the burden, and it was now submitted to the House. If constables could be induced to continue their service for a longer period there would be a greater saving. Five men serving for thirty years would do the same work as six men serving for twenty-five years, but the cost of training and pensioning a man would be saved. Besides, some of the most valuable men were now lost to the force in the prime of life. But men who remained in the force after becoming entitled to pension were exposed to the risk of losing their pension from misconduct or negligence; while, after the constable had once left the force, he could only forfeit his pension by committing some one of a small number of grave offences. These were—conviction of a criminal offence and sentence to prison; association with thieves or reputed thieves; refusing to assist police in detecting crime; and carrying on an illegal occupation or occupation in which improper use was made of the man's position as a police officer. Consequently most men preferred to retire on pensions as soon as they were entitled to do so. Again, police authorities were deterred from offering a small additional payment to induce continuation of service because that payment would itself become pensionable, and would, therefore, have the effect of increasing the pension burden. The Bill offered a remedy for both difficulties. Under its provisions a constable might continue in the service after becoming entitled to pension, and his pension would be liable to forfeit only for the same grave offences for which it would have been liable to forfeit had he retired; while the extra pay given for continuing in the force would not necessarily be the basis for a further increase in pension. The police authorities generally were in favour of the measure. Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Lancashire, West Riding, Cumberland, Durham, Staffordshire, Kent, Sussex, Monmouthshire, and many more, had passed resolutions in its favour. There was practically no opposition, and in 1904 the Bill was read a second time in this House without a Division and passed through the Grand Committee, but then no further progress was made with it and it was dropped. To that Bill the Government now proposed to make some additions. Clause 2 dealt with a problem that had recently arisen with regard to the question of discontinuous service. An action tried in the Court of King's Bench in December, 1903, resulted in a declaration that, as the law stood, a constable who retired from the police force for whatever reason and who rejoined later was not entitled to have his first period of service counted as part of his service for the pension to which he was entitled. That pressed very hardly on the constable in some cases. In one case a constable in Lincolnshire served for seven years in the police force and then resigned, he believed, on account of ill health. After four months he recovered and rejoined the force and served for a period of twenty-five years altogether when he retired on a pension of £45. As soon as the case to which he had referred was decided and it was held that a break in the service forfeited on the part of the constable all benefit with regard to his first period of service, the Lincolnshire police authority had no alternative but to wipe off seven years of the service of this constable, and as a result the pension was reduced from £45 to £27. That was exceedingly hard. The Lord Chief Justice who tried the case previously mentioned, expressed the opinion that this was an imperfection in the law and that an amendment of the Act was urgently desirable. Clause 3 dealt with another point. When the Boer War broke out a number of policemen who were also Army reservists were called out and had to go to South Africa, and it was found necessary to pass in 1902 a special Act to secure that their rights to their pensions were not prejudiced by their going to fight in South Africa. That Act only applied to the men who were called out at that time, and it was now proposed to make that rule permanent, so that if any such case arose in the future it would not be necessary for Parliament to have recourse to special legislation. Clause 4 added three further clauses to those he had already mentioned which would result in the forfeiture of his pension by a police constable. If a constable, after leaving the force, was sentenced to imprisonment or consorted with thieves or refused to give assistance to the police in detecting crime, and so forth, he forfeited his pension. It was proposed to add to that that if he published in a discreditable manner confidential information which he had obtained while in the service he should forfeit his pension. Very great temptation was often put in the way of a constable who had left the service to disclose, for an improper purpose, information which he had obtained while in the service, and it was considered most necessary to impose some penalty on those police constables who published such confidential information. A most evil practice also occasionally existed of police officers who retired from the force receiving testimonials of large pecuniary value from publicans and others in the district of which they had had the supervision, and that practice had gone so far in London that in some cases ex-police superintendents or inspectors had been known to canvass and solicit pecuniary testimonials in the district of which they had charge. In one or two cases the Commissioner of Police had protested against this practice, but as the police constable had retired he had no power to stop such a regrettable occurrence and his protests had been ignored. The Bill provided that where such a practice occurred the police authority might thereupon enforce the forfeiture of the pension of the constable concerned. The third and last addition was in the case of a constable who engaged in or continued to be engaged in a private detective agency after being prohibited from doing so on reasonable grounds. It was not proposed to prohibit altogether a police officer becoming a private detective, but it was desired, where it was known that the private detective agency was conducted in a discreditable manner, to give the police authority power to interfere and enforce the retirement of the ex-police officer from such agency. Those were the purposes of the Bill. He was sure the police force of this country had the goodwill of this House. The men were often subjected to hardship and were sometimes exposed to great danger, and any measure which would in some degree relieve the disabilities from which they suffered and raise the status of the force, and which at the same time would achieve some measure of economy, would, he was sure, meet with the favour of Parliament. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

said that as one who had been for some time connected with the force, he was glad the Government had seen their way to adopt the Bill which had been contemplated by the late Government to amend the Police Act. He congratulated the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department upon the admirably clear and concise speech in which he had laid the provisions of the Bill before the House. He believed it was a Bill that would give great satisfaction and advance the position of this branch of the public service. On the first clause there was nothing to add to the observations of the Under-Secretary, although it must be admitted that a man who had not been promoted to a superior rank was not fit for much after twenty-five years service in the streets. Therefore, the services of a very valuable officer were lost to he public for three, four, or five years. At the same time it was necessary, of course, to safeguard the interests of the force, and to prevent men who were not in a physical condition of health from discharging their duties, and possibly to continue their services to the prejudice of others whose promotion might be stopped. But he thought by Sub-section 2 of Clause 1, and by the annual medical examination, which would be required of every officer serving, beyond the period at which he could obtain his pension, sufficient protection was given in that direction. As regarded the second clause, owing to the great exposure to which the police had to-submit, a member of the force might find his health give way and a few months or a year's rest might help him to regain it and he would be able to rejoin the force, and instead of having an untrained recruit, the services were retained of a very valuable member. He was sure the police authorities would be gratified at the embodiment in a permanent Act of the provisions to meet the case of those police who were in the Army Reserve. Nor had he any criticism of an adverse character to make as regarded Section 4. There had undoubtedly been occasional instances in which police officers employed upon very special and confidential work might have pecuniary inducements held out to them to publish their reminiscences, details of which were of a strictly confidential character, and which could not possibly advance the public interest. This difficulty had had to be dealt with in other countries. Several of the heads of the detective service in France had published their reminiscences and disclosed many facts which ought to have been kept perfectly confidential, and the tendency had crept into this country. It was a very desirable thing to safeguard the interests of the public in this matter, and he did not think any objection would be taken by any police officer to the incorporation of these conditions. As-regarded the sub-section as to engaging in private inquiry work, that was also a matter which would have to be very carefully regulated. He was sure there was no police authority, and least of all the Police Commissioner of the Metropolis, who wished to interfere with a man augmenting, in an honest way his pension, which was often a modest amount, but cases had occurred in which judges had commented very adversely upon private inquiry agencies, and it was not desirable that pensioners from the Metropolitan or other police forces should be engaged in these occupations. if they were of an unsatisfactory character. He thanked the Government for having so quickly adopted the views of the late Home Secretary and brought this Bill forward.

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

said he did not desire to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, but he certainly did not think that opinion in favour of its principal provision was quite so unanimous as had been represented. The object, and no doubt the effect, of that provision would be to encourage constables who had already served the statutory period to enter into arrangements to continue in the service, and he was not at all sure that it was a satisfactory thing to encourage arrangements of that sort. Parliament had prescribed twenty-five years as a period of service after which a constable might claim his pension, and if they kept the old constables in the force one effect would be to check what perhaps he might call a proper flow of promotion, and secondly, as regarded the outside world, it must not be forgotten, especially in the present state of the labour market, that every constable who remained in the police service after the expiry of the statutory period was keeping another man out of a job. He liked Section 2 so far as it went, but it did not go far enough. It was worthy of consideration whether it should not be made compulsory. Section 4 of the Bill added to the cases in which a pension might be forfeited, and when the Under-Secretary referred to its provisions there were some cheers, but he thought those cheers were due to the fact that the hon. Gentleman had not quoted accurately the form of words. He told the House that the pension would be forfeited if the constable published confidential information in a discreditable manner. If the clause ran in that way he would not raise any objection to it. But the clause ran as follows— If the grantee publishes in a manner which the police authority consider to be discreditable or improper any information of a confidential nature which he may have obtained in the course of his employment in the police his pension would be forfeited. That clearly made the police authority judges in their own court. There was an appeal from the police authority to the quarter sessions, but the latter could do nothing. He suggested that the words in the Secrets Act, 1889, should be adopted, namely— Wilfully publishes when in the interests of the police it should not be published. If words like these were substituted there would be no valid objection to the clause. Great difficulty was caused owing to the fact that there was no definition in the Police Act of the word "pay." Police authorities instead of increasing a constable's pay sometimes gave him what they called an allowance for special duty. The only object of not calling it pay was to prevent its being rated for pension. In some cases a constable when he retired was practically defrauded of the proper amount of his pension. In other cases, where the constable had served under the police authorities the police authority which adopted this expedient was able to throw an unfair proportion of the pension on to the other authority. He hoped the Government would consider the possibility of putting into the Bill a definition of the word "pay."

MR. CAVE (Surrey, Kingston)

said that he agreed with the principle of Clause 1. The experience in his county was that as soon as a constable got his full pension he retired from the force, with the result that they lost some of their best men far too soon. They very much regretted this, because many of those constables were able to do a good many more years work, and they were anxious to be able to keep them in the force. But the clause required to be amended. The Bill provided that the police authority might direct, that when a constable entitled to retire on a pension continued to serve in the force, such constable should be entitled on retiring at any time thereafter to receive a full pension, and that such pension should not be liable to forfeiture except in certain events involving grave misconduct. In his opinion the result of that would be to put the old officers in a privileged position. The police force was a quasi-military force, and they all desired that discipline should be maintained, but there was some danger in placing a particular section of the police force in a different position to the rest of the force. A direction ought to be inserted limiting this privilege say to one year, and it might be renewed from year to year; and then, if there was any breach of discipline so serious that the police authority did not think it advisable to continue this privileged position, they might without any trouble put an end to it by refusing to renew the privilege, and the constable would then leave the force with his pension. That, he thought, would be an improvement and he hoped it would be considered He trusted that the Bill would be read a second time.

MR. W. H. DAVIES (Bristol, S.)

said he quite approved of the proposals of the Bill. The subject dealt with was causing considerable anxiety among municipalities on account of the increased cost of the pension fund. He assumed it was the intention of the Government in introducing this Bill to secure the efficiency of the police force as well as economy. He feared that the clause of the measure which proposed to allow policemen to remain in the force for a longer period than twenty-five years would, unless there was some advantage to be gained, only result in their not remaining. In the city he represented many of their able and capable retired policemen were able to secure profitable positions at higher salaries and with larger pensions than they would receive if they had remained in the police force. Unless this clause was considered more generously they would not be able to retain those men in the police force.


said he was entirely against the principle of this Bill. The effect of Clause 1 would be that when constables had finished their statutory period of service which entitled them to retire on a pension the authority would have power to take them on again in the force in a new category, under which their additional service would not count for pension, and they would receive a small amount of money in addition to the pension that they otherwise would have got. The constable who had obtained the right by his service to retire and receive a pension would be retained in the force by the local authority and would receive wages instead of pension which would amount to a little more than the pension. This scheme had been tried in Liverpool for two 'years, and it had been found to be a failure. He could understand that it was very desirable to keep the men from retiring, but even a police constable's legs had only a limited life.

And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed to-morrow.