HC Deb 27 April 1915 vol 71 cc602-10

Order for Second Reading read.

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


This is the third Bill introduced since the War dealing with the same topic. There are several small points in the Bill relating to police officers, giving additional benefits to the Service. In the first Bill introduced certain privileges were given to police officers who enlisted in the Army provided that at the time of their enlistment they were Reservists. By the subsequent measure these privileges were extended to police officers who enlisted who were not Army Reservists, but had previously served in the Army, or who were specially selected by the War Office because of their having particular qualifications. It is now proposed in this third Bill that the same privileges which were conferred by the two previous Bills should be given to any police officer, whether he has served in the past in the Army or not, or whether he has special qualifications or not.


Does that apply to all who have already enlisted?


Yes; it would apply to those. It is proposed that in those cases in which Army pensions are not given on an equally wide basis as pensions in the police service a disabled policeman shall have the benefit of his own police conditions, and not of the narrower Army conditions. It is next proposed to clear up a doubt, that the privileges given to police officers who enlist should be extended also to those police officers serving who obtain commissions or who are promoted to commission rank. There is another provision which withdraws a privilege from the existing police service. It is proposed to take power to suspend the right, of any policeman who has served his full period to retire on a pension. It is proposed that, unless he obtains a medical certificate, or is authorised to retire, his services may be retained. Then there are other small provisions in the Bill. The first enables, in certain circumstances, a county police authority to take over a small borough police authority in its area. It has been found that under the new War conditions duties are thrown upon some of the small borough police forces which they are not fitted to carry out. They have not the staff or the means to do this, and power is taken in certain cases to authorise the county police authority to take over such a borough authority. It is further provided that no new police authorities shall be created during the War. The reason for this is very simple. Every new police authority increases the total number of police officers, and in consequence a new recruiting demand is made for policemen who would be in ordinary circumstances selected from amongst the men who are of military age. It is thought desirable to discourage all recruiting of policemen of military age, and therefore we propose that no new police authorities shall be created. That is the whole scope of the Bill, and I hope it will be regarded as an emergency measure and of an uncontroversial character.


I should like to ask a question upon a subject about which there is some uneasiness amongst the police, and that is the question of pensions. Take the case of a man entitled to retire after twenty-five years' service. He has a right which at the present time is inalienable. Under this Bill he will not be allowed to retire except with special permission. I wish to know can anything happen in his subsequent service which might diminish his right to that pension? That is a point which is concerning the mind of the police, and I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would give me an assurance on that point.


I wish to raise a question which I have drawn attention, to in the case of other Bills, and it is why is there no special Clause terminating the operation of this measure with the end of the War? It is quite true that in Clauses 2 and 3 "Continuance of the present War" is specifically mentioned, but there are Clauses which do not seem to take any cognisance of the War. Would there be any objection to a new Clause being inserted between Clauses 3 and 4 which would place it beyond all doubt that this is emergency legislation? It seems to me that under Clause 1 the Home Office might be able to slip in other reforms and amendments, and I do not think anything of that kind should be introduced as emergency legislation, with an appeal that it should be taken as uncontroversial. If I am wrong in this respect, why cannot it be specifically stated that this measure is only for the duration of the War. Several other Government Bills contain a specific Clause that the Bill itself terminates either at the conclusion of the War or six months after. These Government Bills do not now contain any such Clause, although they contain references in some of the Clauses that it is only during the continuance of the present War. Why cannot we have a good, wholesome clause restored which everybody can understand, to the effect that the Bill itself ceases to be operative within a certain period after the end of the War? It may be that that is a Committee point, and therefore I will put down a Clause dealing with it, and I hope the Government will put it beyond doubt.


I understand that under Clause 1 service in the police force and with the Colours will count for a pension. There has been a number of varied conditions. Some of the men have served in the Army before. The new Bill is to put the whole of the men who have joined the force on exactly the same footing as any who may have been with the Army before they joined the police force. If that is so, it fulfils the point which I am desirous of dealing with. I understand that this Bill puts all those varying conditions on the same footing. I know there are men in the police force who have never been in the Army, and pressure is being brought to bear upon them to join the Army. I wish to know if the time they have been in the force and with the Colours will count for a pension. There is a further point which I would like to deal with, and it is in connection with Clause 2. It is this particular Clause which deals with the case of a man who has served his twenty-five years in the force. Under ordinary conditions that man would retire, but I understand that this Clause is to prevent his retirement. If he can produce a medical certificate, I understand that he can still retire, but his retirement without the medical certificate is subject to the sanction of the chief officer of the police force to which he belongs. My point is that the police themselves are desirous that the whole of the men who come within this category should all be treated alike.

The constables who have approached me in regard to this matter desire that the whole of the men who have served twenty-five years should be treated in exactly the same way. Their view is that there may be cases of men who have served for twenty-five years who cannot produce a medical certificate, but who may receive sanction to terminate their service with the force by a little bit of favour on the part of the chief officer, and they desire that that should not be so. They think that in every case the man should produce his medical certificate before he is allowed to retire from the force, and they believe that if that is insisted upon there can be no favouritism to anybody and the same conditions will apply to every man who has served twenty-five years. I understand that if the men who have served twenty-five years serve a year extra they are entitled to a higher scale of pension. I should like to know when this new Bill comes into operation if those men will be entitled to the pension which they would be entitled to after twenty-six years' service if they serve twenty-six years instead of being tied down to the twenty-five years' pension.

4.0 P.M.


The point I want to raise is this: If a policeman joins the Army after having served in the police force for a number of years and obtained the rank of sergeant, will he have to go into the rank and file, or will his present rank as constabulary sergeant be considered. Another point I wish to raise is as to his superannuation on leaving the force; will he get his full superannuation pay while with the Army, or will it be kept until he returns, or, in the event of his not coming back, will it go to his representatives?


I should like to ask the Home Secretary, in reference to the possible merging under an Order of the Secretary of State of the police administration on non-county boroughs into the police administration of counties, what will be the effect in regard to the rate? This is rather an important point, and I do not see any provision dealing with it in the Bill. There is a great difference in the police rates levied in non-county boroughs and in counties. In some cases the borough rate is higher than the county police rate. Take the case of a non-county borough where the rate is 5d. in the £, while in the county it is only 2½d. or 3d. Is it proposed that the county police rate shall fall to the level of the non-county rate, or that the county rate shall be raised to the level of the borough rate. I believe some of the non-county boroughs are managing their police forces at a cheaper rate than the counties, and vice versa, but there is no provision, so far as I can see, in this Bill to deal with the point, and I should like to know what are the Government proposals in regard to it.


I want to refer, to the case of a man who has already served twenty-five years in the police, and who may not be discharged because there is a difficulty in finding sufficient men to serve. The police authorities under present circumstances do not want to part with men if they can help it. I was sitting on a police authority yesterday and we looked on this as a very serious question. One of our difficulties is this: We do not want to take men of military age who are fit for service with the Colours. On the other hand, according to our rules and regulations, the proper age for policemen is between nineteen and thirty-five, and, consequently, there is nobody eligible who is not fit for military service. There are left only cripples and invalids who are not fit to act even as policemen. I ask the Home Secretary to consider whether he cannot by this Bill, or at any rate by the issue of an instruction from the Home Office, make some provision for the raising of temporary police. Under the present system the pay of the policeman is calculated on the number of years he is likely to serve, and his pension is also based on that. What is wanted at the moment is some system of employing as temporary police during the War men of greater age. It will be necessary to have a totally different system, with different pay and other arrangements. If that can be done, many of the difficulties which this Bill proposes to meet could be got over without legislation.


I wish to ask the Home Secretary a question with regard to those policemen who are in a position to retire, but may be compelled to remain in the force. As a result of so remaining, will they get an extra pension proportionate to the extra time they serve?


I should like to ask whether, in the case of a constable who has already served twenty-five years extending his period, and during the extended period being guilty of some minor offence, he will run the risk of losing his whole pension? A man may make a slight mistake, and there is a good deal of apprehension in the minds of constables that they may be risking the pensions already earned. If that apprehension can be removed, I think there will be no difficulty in getting men to volunteer to stay on. They only want a straightforward statement from the Department.


I have been asked what is to happen to a policeman who has earned his pension by twenty-five years' service, and is detained in the force, if he commits some breach of discipline which renders him liable to forfeit the pension already earned. That is a very difficult point, and I am sure the House will appreciate that it is almost impossible to decide the question one way or the other. The difficulty is this: If you determine that in no case shall a policeman lose his right to a pension, you break the bonds of discipline. On the other hand, if you determine that for any offence the policeman is to lose a pension to which at the moment he has a statutory right, you are taking from him something of which he ought not to be deprived. The problem is how to reconcile these opposing factors. The method we have adopted in the Bill is this: We say that no constable shall, during the continuance of the present War, be entitled, without medical certificate, to retire and receive a pension for life, except with the consent of the chief officer of police force to which he belongs. That proviso is not, as might be suggested, intended to send a man out of the force because he may enjoy the favour of his superior officer, but it is intended to meet the very case put forward by my hon. Friend and to give the chief officer the right to discharge him without sacrificing his pension.


In case of default?


Yes. In case he finds the man's behaviour is such as to be prejudicial to the discipline of the service, he has the power conferred on him to discharge the man from the service without sacrificing his pension. I hope that, on consideration, that method will meet with the approval of the House.


Will the chief constables understand that that is the only object of the provision?


We shall take care to explain it to them. As a matter of fact, I do not think a case is ever likely to arise where a man will lose his pension. In ordinary circumstances such cases are very few indeed, and where a man has nearly earned his pension—in the last year or two of his service—practically they do not occur. Therefore we are really only discussing an academic case. But I think the method we propose to adopt will be found to be satisfactory. The general intention is that a man who has earned his statutory right to a pension shall not lose that pension. The intention is also that a man who does not conform to discipline shall not be retained in the service, and so far as we have been able to reconcile those two contradictions we have done so. The question has also been asked by the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) whether this Bill is to apply to the period of war only. He will see, in Clause 1, that reference is made to the original Act, which was for the War only. It is quite clear that although it is done by reference and not by special enactment, that it is to be operative only during the War. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow (Mr. Duncan) asks whether Army service will count for police pension.


My point is that there are men in the police force now who have never been in the Army. They are being asked to join the Army, and are not unwilling, but they are anxious to know whether, if they do, they will enter on the same terms as those who have had previous Army service, or whether there will be any differentiation against them?


This Bill proposes to put all policemen who enlist on the same footing. Whether they have served in the Army before or not, their Army service will count as police service for pension. I have also been asked "whether the additional period of service will count for additional pension. The answer is, "Yes, it will." If a man serves twenty-six years in the police force he will be entitled to pension on the basis of the full twenty-six years. Now I come to the question put by the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. J. Samuel) regarding financial difficulties which may arise through the amalgamation of county and small borough police forces. I do not think any financial trouble under the terms of the Bill will in fact arise. It is only for the period of the War that the county police force is to take over the borough force for purposes of discipline and control.


Suppose that the borough police rate is less than the county police rate, will both borough and county have to pay the same rate?


No, they will continue to pay exactly the same rate as they are now paying. There will be the same number of police and the same charges, but the borough police will have to obey the orders of the county police authorities. I think I have replied to all the questions, and I hope now we may get the Second Reading of the Bill.


I hope the Home Secretary will reconsider the position regarding the possibility of losing pensions through committing some fault during the extended period of police service. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that such a case is unlikely to accur, but still there is the probability. A man may lose his temper and strike his superior officer, and for that he may lose the whole of the pension which he has already earned under his contract with the authorities. If he joins the police force for a further term of years, surely it would be sufficient punishment to take away the pension to which he is entitled in respect of that extra service, and in no way interfere with the pension already earned by his long period of service ! I should like to see the possibility removed of any man suffering this very great injustice. I have known cases in the Service where a man who has served twenty years has been liable at the end of that time for some blunder to lose the whole of his pension. A man may have served the State well for twenty-five years and have earned his pension. That is his contract with the State, and if he does wrong after that he ought only to be punished in respect of the pension that would accrue for the extra service. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the case from that point of view.


If the Noble Lord will, on the Committee stage, bring up words which will meet his views, I shall be glad to consider them. I entirely recognise the force of his argument.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Mr. WALTER REA (Lord of the Treasury)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill committed for to-morrow (Wednesday).