HC Deb 10 June 1910 vol 17 cc973-9

(1) In a police force to which the principal Act applies retirement shall be compulsory for every constable above the rank of inspector on his attaining sixty-five years of age, except that in special cases the police authority may with the consent of the Secretary for Scotland extend any such constable's service for a further period, in no case exceeding five years, on being satisfied that the constable's retirement at sixty-five would be detrimental to the interests of the police force; but nothing in this Section shall be construed as in anywise affecting the retirement of a constable holding a rank above that of inspector before the passing of this Act.

(2) Where a constable is compelled to retire under this Section, and is not entitled without a medical certificate to retire and receive his pension, he shall be entitled to receive such a pension or may be granted such a gratuity as he would have been entitled to receive or as might have been granted to him had he then retired on a medical certificate.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the word "sixty-five" ["on his attaining sixty-five years of age"], and to insert instead thereof the word "sixty."

This, I venture to think, is a very important Amendment. The Clause says, in effect, that in the case of every constable above the rank of inspector he may be retained in the service until he is seventy years of age. Surely the hon. Member cannot mean that. Let him realise what the duties are of a constable above the rank of inspector. Take the case of a serious riot. He has to consider what he may do. He has to keep his nerve in the presence of serious outbreaks, when stones and bottles and other weapons are being thrown, and a man who is very nearly seventy will have to decide what the police under his command are to do in a very difficult position and in a case of very serious emergency. The vast majority of men at that age lose the power of concentration and the power of concerted action which a young man of forty-five or forty is likely to have. I speak with considerable diffidence, but I believe that in the Army you do not give an important command to a colonel or general in his sixty-fifth or seventieth year. An hon. Friend behind me mentions Lord Roberts, and I really do not know what his age was when he went out to the Boer War, but the fact is that there is no single age which you can lay down which has not an exception to it. But you do not lay down in such a case as that, under an Act of Parliament, that people may be employed up to the age of seventy as you do here.

It is a very different thing in the case of a national emergency, when you find you have an exceptional man and he is allowed to come forward and take duty in the field in time of war, to the circumstances we are discussing. I think, moreover, in cases of national emergency it would be very much better if the gentleman who was sent out was under that age, but you cannot lay down a rule. You cannot say that it is a good thing to send a man of that age because there is one particular bright exception in which it is possible to do so. You have here to deal with ordinary circumstances and ordinary cases, and I venture to say that for a policeman to remain in the force until the age of seventy is absurd. Only a short time ago there was a strong movement on the part of the hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. Morton) to reduce the age of His Majesty's judges. The hon. Member, I think, moved to reduce the age of judges to sixty, and said at that age they should retire. Surely he cannot be in favour of allowing a police officer to remain in the force until he is seventy. If a judge should be retired before he is seventy, so ought also a police constable, and the latter case is even a stronger one. I cannot see any reason for this proposal being brought forward. Perhaps the Lord Advocate can enlighten me, but I do not think it would apply to a great number of people because it only applies to officers above the rank of inspector. That being so, I can see no reason whatever for extending the age, as any alteration should be rather in the direction of reducing it. If my Amendment is accepted it will have the effect of making retirement compulsory at sixty, but give power for an extension to sixty-five. That is a reasonable Amendment which, I think, is likely to be of advantage to the service, and should therefore be accepted.


I wish to second the Amendment which has just been moved by the hon. Member for the City, chiefly because I think there is a good deal of humbug contained in this Clause, and that it is not really meant to apply. It might, I think, have been drafted more honestly. I do not by that wish to throw any reflection, but I think it might have been presented in a more straightforward manner. I think on this occasion the hon. Member for Leith Burghs (Mr. Munro Ferguson) will bear me out that I did mention this point in the Committee, for I have a lively recollection that there were many hon. Members who will no doubt live till ninety, but who were only then at the age of seventy, who were extremely indignant with me when I said that the active duties of a police constable were not likely to be carried out satisfactorily by a man, however estimable he might be, at the age of seventy. I know that there were some hon. Members on the Committee who had a different opinion. In the case of some of them I notice that they supported the limitation of the age of judges because they wanted more judges appointed, but in their own counties with regard to the police they are extremely careful as to what the age limit is to be. I am perfectly well aware that there are isolated cases—I could mention two or three in Scotland—in which holders of this office are over sixty-five years of age and are quite fit to discharge their duties. At the same time I think that by the time a man has got to sixty-five it is time, if he has done well and borne the heat and burden of the day, that he should be entitled to his pension and go. A particular man may be extremely good, but there are lots of men of sixty-five who would perform the duties of his office quite as well, and if we are to make one exception the Scottish Office will probably have to carry on all round. I believe that really the intention of the Bill is not to allow the holder of the office to stay on up to the age of seventy, but to take the odium off the members of local authorities so that they may be able to say to a chief constable: "We are doing what we can, we are trying to keep you on, but the Scottish Office will not do so," and it is in order that it may be done nicely so to speak. If you are going to do that it is sure to cause very much more friction than would happen if you had a fixed rule. The idea in future is that when we have a chief constable we shall say: "We are very sorry, we have recommended that you should be kept on, but the Scottish Office as usual will not have it." The Scottish Office is unpopular enough in many ways without trying to add gratuitously to its unpopularity. I do not see in the least why it should be made to do dirty work which it is perfectly unnecessary for it to do. It would be far better to have an age limit of sixty-five, as there are plenty of men under that age who could take up the job. It will be hard on one or two people who have done very well, but I think they themselves will see the force of the argument that it will be better that at sixty-five a man should be allowed to go on the pension list and another man should be allowed to take his place, otherwise it will be blocking promotion. Certainly in Scotland at the age of seventy chief constables are more likely to be less efficient than in England, the rigours of the climate being very much greater. Doing a police constable's work in a big county in the Highlands is by no means a light job, and the case is not likely to occur which is mentioned here.


I hope the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill will not give way on this point. He has chosen in the words of the Bill what is a common-sense arrangement for which there is plenty of precedent. The hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) has adduced certain reasons, which all seem to me to be singularly inapplicable. If the rule had been laid down at the time, and Nelson had survived the battle of Trafalgar, he would have been ineligible for the position of chief constable. The instances the hon. Baronet gives told in an opposite direction from that in which he tried to apply them. To take a particular case, one of the most efficient heads of the Metropolitan Police in recent years, Sir Edward Bradford, was considerably over the age for years before London lost the benefit of his services. There are over and over again cases of men whom it is essential to keep in office in the interests of the public service. The hon. Member says there are exceptional cases, but why take away from yourselves the power of dealing with exceptional cases? Surely you can trust the police authorities and the Scottish Office to have some measure of common-sense and only to use their liberty in cases where it is essential in the public interest. There are two authorities which must coalesce in passing such a Resolution. Are we to believe that both of them would entirely lose their heads, and, in the interests of some old man, keep him long after he is fit for his work? It would be absurd to speak of these higher posts in the police as if they required a man to go about in all weathers and in all circumstances and arrest felons. The men you want at the head of a force are men of wide experience, with high powers of organisation, who can preserve discipline amongst those who are serving under them. We do not require them to possess those physical capacities in the highest degree which are required in their subordinates. The hon. Member in charge of the Bill has adopted the course which is universal in the Civil Service, that a man may retire at sixty, but in all ordinary circumstances he must retire at sixty-five. We are taking away from the years of labour at the earlier age; we are adding on university education and continuation schools so that a man is not supposed to begin the working years of his life until twenty-five or thirty, and as you extend that in an exaggerated form so hon. Members like the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) seek to cut off at the other end, so that the whole working period of a man's life will be some twenty or twenty-five years. A man of, say, sixty may still be capable of a little active work. The hon. Baronet himself has proved to-day that though beyond that sacred limit of age he possesses considerable power. The same rule should be applied as to the ordinary Civil Service.


To some extent the Amendment has been discussed as if it were a question of the extension of the age limit, in reply to the Amendment which we have been previously discussing, but this is not a case of the extension of an age limit. At present there is no fixed age limit, and the proposal here is a very reasonable proposal—to apply to constables above the rank of inspector the same age limit which prevails universally through the other branches of the Civil Service. That seems highly desirable. The hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) spoke of men over seventy doing certain things as if it was a general rule. The additional extension of five years can only be made with the consent of the Secretary for Scotland, and would in fact never be made unless at that age the man was particularly able to perform his duties. The hon. Baronet spoke about Napoleon, Nelson, and various other people in order to emphasise his views. I would like to remind the hon. Baronet that a very distinguished man, being asked when he was eighty-nine years of age when a man was old, replied that he looked upon ninety as the proper age. But when he was ninety he considered that the proper time was ninety-one. I think this is a Clause which will assimilate the retiring age of these men throughout the Civil Service. Sixty-five is the age which is gener- ally accepted, and which we think should be generally accepted, but provision is made for the extra five years in special cases. In the circumstances, I hope the hon. Baronet will not press the Amendment.


In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities (Sir H. Craik), I would point out that he has given away his whole case, because he says that a man after sixty may be capable of a little work. We do not want men over sixty who are capable of a little work. We want men under sixty who are capable of a great deal of work. The hon. Member said that I am still able to do a good deal of work. I may say that I am sixty this year. The hon. Gentleman opposite says that this provision is all right because the Secretary for Scotland would never do anything foolish. How does he know? Is he going to be Secretary for Scotland? I say that the Secretary for Scotland has done a good many foolish things in the past, and that he will probably do a good many in the future. Why should the Secretary for Scotland be brought in? My hon. Friend says that it is an excuse in order that the Secretary for Scotland may be able to say in the case of a chief constable who is sixty-five years of age, and who does not want to retire, that he may still be retained in office. I think that ought not to be allowed. My Noble Friend said, in his speech that he would be content it the age was left at sixty-five, and if the power enabling the Secretary for Scotland to extend the term of office another five years was omitted. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite would accept that alteration, but if they would I would be content to alter my Amendment in that direction. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Dundas White) said that Lord Palmerston, when he was eighty-nine thought a man was old at ninety, and that when he was ninety he thought the age should be ninety-one. Unless I am very much mistaken Lord Palmerston died at the age of eighty-one. The hon. Gentleman opposite may have been able to be in communication with him ten years after he died. Generally the tendency of Scottish Members is to prefer to have old chief constables rather than young ones, and, therefore, I will not press my Amendment, although I do not think the arguments brought forward by the hon. Gentleman in this case were very convincing.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Question put, and agreed to. Bill read the third time, and passed.