HC Deb 04 November 1918 vol 110 cc1857-66

Order for Second Reading read.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir George Cave)

I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a second time."

The Bill has three purposes. One is to enable the police authority to grant a pension to the widow of a police officer. As the House knows, under the present law a pension to a widow is only granted when a police officer has received injuries in the execution of his duty, and the pension is limited in the case of a constable to £15 a year, of an inspector to £25, and of a superintendent to £30. We propose to authorise all police authorities to give to the widow of an officer who comes within the provisions of the Bill a pension of £26 per annum in the case of the widow of a constable, of £32 in the case of the widow of an inspector, and of £40 in the case of a higher rank. Those who are within the Bill include those who were serving in a police force on the 1st September, 1918, including re-engaged pensioners serving at that date; and members of a police force who have been called up in the Army. The cost of this will be heavy. It is estimated that over the whole country it will ultimately cost £550,000 a year, but for the next twenty years it will not reach more than half that amount. Where the man has an Army or Navy pension, that, of course, will be taken into account in fixing his pension, and where a gratuity has been given on retirement from the police force, we meet that by allowing the police authorities to fix a date when the new pensions shall begin. They will take into account the gratuity. That is the substance in effect of the first and second Clauses. The third Clause deals with a point which has given some difficulty. It is provided by the existing Pensions Act that where a person receiving a pension under the Act is entitled to remuneration out of money provided by Parliament or out of the county or borough funds, he shall not while holding that office receive more of the pension than together with the remuneration of that office is equal to 1½ times the remuneration of the office in respect of which the pension was awarded. That has been found to be a considerable hardship. It has been modified in the case of certain pensions under the Ministry of Munitions and other Departments. We propose to abolish it altogether, and to follow the principle now generally accepted, namely, that a pensioner who takes an appointment shall receive full pay for his employment without regard to the pension which he will draw. The fourth Clause deals with a small matter affecting a policeman who has joined the Army without the consent of the Chief Officer of Police. As the law stands, these men when they come back cannot count their war service as part of their service for pension. We think it rather hard that these men who have taken a patriotic course shall suffer, and we are proposing in this Clause to provide that the service in naval, military, or air forces shall be taken as approved service. That is the effect of the Bill.


Those of us who are London Members, and who are taking special interest in the London police, are very pleased to hear the Home Secretary move the Second Reading of this Bill today, carrying out as it does the pledge which was given to the men during the recent strike in London. There are, however, one or two points that I would like the right hon. Gentleman to consider between now and the Report stage. One is in Clause 1, where, it seems, he is going to leave it very much to the option of the police authorities, because he uses the words "may, if they think fit"; and some of us who are interested in the police think it would be of very great advantage to the Bill if, instead of these words, the word "shall" were inserted. The same thing applies to Clause 4, where the word "may" is used instead of "shall." I hope between this and the Report stage the Home Secretary will consider that point, and see if he cannot make the Bill mandatory, instead of leaving it, as we think it is at present, absolutely optional to the police authorities, whether they allow this pension or not, particularly to the widow. There is one other point about which I should like to plead with the Home Secretary, and that is whether he can make the date of this Bill retrospective in regard to the Police Emergency Act of 1915. If he does that he will be doing a great kindness, and I think justice, not to a large number of men, but to a certain number of men with whom, I think, the House will have a great deal of sympathy. When the War started, policemen who were entitled to retire on a pension were forbidden to retire from the police force, and by the Police Emergency Act of 1915 were compelled to remain in the police force, and were not allowed to take their pension unless incapacitated.

The effect of that has been that a very great hardship has been inflicted in certain cases, because a number of the men, who have served for twenty-six years in the police force, looked forward to the time when, having completed their service, they could leave the force and enjoy their pensions, or obtain some other kind of employment which would add considerably to the pension. During the War no man has been allowed to retire, and the men who are stopping on now will get the advantage of the new pension arrangement. There are, however, a certain number of men who have been invalided out of the service since 1914 and 1915. I have a case in a letter in front of me of a man who was invalided out as recently as August, and that man will not get the benefit of the new pensions scale. I do appeal to the Home Secretary, therefore, to reconsider this matter between now and the Committee stage, and see if something cannot be done. I think it can be done by ante-dating the Bill to 1915. In any case, the men are not going to get a very large pension, because this particular man whose case I have mentioned gets under the old system £81 15s. a year. He has done practically thirty years' service, and he goes out practically a month before the new terms were made. I am certain I shall have the sympathy of the Home Secretary and the heads of the police force in a case of this kind. There are very few such cases. I asked the Home Secretary a question about this last week, and he said their pensions were decided by Statute and nothing could be done in the matter. But I think something can be done in this Bill by altering the date. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the matter.


There is one point I should like to raise, more for the purpose of getting information than anything else. The title of this Bill is, "A Bill to make further provision with respect to pensions payable to police-constables and their widows." I wish to ask whether the word "constables" is limited to the ordinary constables. The word is used throughout the Bill, with the exception that there is a difference in the wording in paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 1. Paragraph (a) speaks of "a constable who was serving in a police force," and paragraph (b) speaks of a "member of a police force, who having been called out as a reservist." There is evidently a difference between those two, and my question is whether this Bill applies to the other grades of the police force in addition to the ordinary police constable.


Before the Home Secretary replies, I should be very glad if he could give me some information in regard to Clause 3. I observe in Clause 3 that Sub-section (2) of Section 13 of the Police Act of 1890 is repealed, and that is a piece of news that will be received with the greatest satisfaction by members of the police force, who have felt it a very serious grievance. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would inform me whether that is to have any retrospective sort of effect. For instance, there have been cases in which a police constable has retired; he has had to retire on account of injury received in the execution of his duty, and upon retirement he has received a small pension, £26, or something of that sort; but when, after an interval, he has recovered health and obtains employment, say, as a special officer under an education authority, at once the Home Office have stepped in, have brought into play Sub-section (2) of Section 13 of the Police Act, 1890, and have cut off his pension. I need hardly point out to the Home Secretary that if this Bill is going to create two classes of cases, namely, those who have been brought under the operation of the Sub-section (2) of Section 13 of the Police Act, 1890, and those who are going to be relieved of the, operation of it, it will create a feeling of soreness among those who are not so fortunate, and it does seem to me that if an attempt is going to be made to remove what has undoubtedly been a grievance which has affected the financial prospects of the police constable very seriously in the past, it would be the handsome thing to make the measure thoroughly retrospective in order to bring in all the cases, which cannot be very many, which have come up in the past.

Then, with regard to Clause 1, I see that the phraseology in Sub-section (1) goes: "The police authority may, if they think fit." I hope the Home Secretary will be inclined to alter that phrase "may" to "shall." I cannot myself see why the grant of these pensions should be contingent on anybody's discretion. I say that either the policeman's widow is entitled to this pension or she is not, and the words, "may if they think fit," would merely create a feeling of doubt in the minds of the police force. I expect that the right hon. Gentleman will tell me that "may" there is the same as "shall," but I should like to point out that the House of Lords decided that the word "shall" shall be "shall," and the word "may" shall be "may," and I hope he will accept that definition now. But what I really am anxious about is with regard to Subsection (2) of Section 13 of the Police Act, 1890. I am anxious that the right hon. Gentleman should give some sort of assurance that all cases in which this very unfair section has been brought into operation shall receive attention. The unfairness of it will be at once evident when I point out that the operation of this Section in the Police Act of 1890 does not apply to the City of London Police Force, or the Police Force of Scotland or of Ireland, but solely to the constables of the Metropolitan Police Force, and to the constables only. It was not brought into operation with regard to higher officers. That being so, I would ask him if he can see his way to give an assurance with regard to the matter.


I agree with my hon. Friend, with the exception of the fact that it does not apply to higher officers. It does not apply in actual facts to higher officers, because they are higher paid men, and, receiving a higher salary, are able to obtain the whole of their pension as well as any remuneration they may receive out of the public funds. I do ask the Home Secretary to reconsider this whole question of the pension of these lower-paid men. The Act to which reference has been made lays it down that no constable may receive more of his pension than, together with the remuneration of his office, is equal to one and a half times the pay of the office. I have gone into a great number of cases, and I do not think I have discovered one single case of a man, of an inspector or a sub-inspector who has any deduction whatever from his pension. He is receiving a much larger salary; he is in a better position and is better able to meet the heavy demands of the increased cost of living and gets no deduction from his pension, but the constable, and especially the constable who retired some considerable time ago, and received then a smaller salary than he receives now, is in a most unfortunate position, and there is regularly deducted from his salary so much for his pension as would exceed one and a half times. I would like to give one illustration. It is not a very exceptional case, but it seems to me a very hard case. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can take into account a case of that sort. Here is a man, an ex-police constable, who received his pension on 13th July, 1901. Since that date he has been in and out of hospital on account of injuries he received, and has had several severe operations and cannot walk properly. He received his injuries in 1900 and he still suffers from them. They prevent him from doing his work as efficiently as he otherwise would. His pay was comparatively small as compared with the present time, and yet, notwithstanding that fact, when he gets a situation and is able greatly to improve his position he receives a notice to say that, quarter by quarter, so much will be deducted from his pension because he is now exceeding the one and a half times. This is a man injured in the service. He does his very best to earn a livelihood afterwards and to improve his position. The smaller his salary the more certain it is that something will be deducted from his pension. If that is the fact, I think the Home Secretary ought to take it into account.


We are repealing it.


You are repealing it so far as those who are paid out of public funds are concerned, but not in the case of those who are in an ordinary occupation in civil life. I know of one case. A man applied to his employer for an increase in salary. The employer happened to know his position and said, "What is the use of my increasing your salary, it will only be deducted from your pension?" which is the case. It is a fact that if a man increases his salary over a certain amount, however small that salary may be, if he was paid on the low scale he thereby reduces his pension. There is no justice whatever in that position. There is no reason why these men who happen to be working outside public authorities for the naval and military services should be penalised in this fashion. It was not the intention of the Home Secretary. It does not apply to the City, to Scotland and to Ireland. The very least we can do now that we are reviewing this position is to see that these lower-paid men are assisted. I will give you another case. It is that of a man—not in my Constituency; I am not pressing these people because they happen to live in my Constituency, because they do not—it is the case of a man who took a position under a private employer. He has had deducted from his salary since he retired in 1906 £274 7s. 4d. from his pension. That man paid 11d. a week towards his superannuation. I think that ought to be taken into account. Yet there are many of these men now who are not entitled to any pension at all. Why? They contributed 11d. a week. It was deducted from their pay originally, but because they receive up to this amount they are not entitled to any pension whatever. I can see no justice in that. I am certain the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that where we are dealing with these lower-paid men, especially men who retired some time ago, that their case is worthy of consideration, and I hope that he will see his way to make some concession in this direction. I should like to have a Return of the police pensioners under the Act of 1890 who are suffering deductions from their pension under Section 13. I believe I would be contented with that. I believe if we had that Return and that if the right hon. Gentleman saw that Return he would be satisfied that there is a case made out. He would note that no inspector or sub-inspector had anything deducted, because they do not come under that Regulation. It just hits the smaller-paid men. I am sure he understands the case and that he sympathises with it; but I do urge upon him the necessity of helping these men at the present time. They are not earning any too much money. I have examined the wages and incomes of a great many of these men, and they are not really getting enough to live on just now, and although these pensioners are as a rule better paid than other men, yet these men who retired some considerable time ago are suffering very much because their emoluments then were smaller. They are in a very much worse position than the man who gets £l a week more. It is a matter which ought to be taken into account. I hope I have made myself clear; if I have not, I shall be glad to bring to see the right hon. Gentleman a small deputation of men who are really suffering great hardship, and I trust he will be willing to receive them.


I want to draw the attention of the Home Secretary to a rather curious point in the drafting of this Bill. I know perfectly well that it is proposed only to apply this Bill to England, but I have read the Bill very carefully—and if the right hon. Gentleman looks at it again I think he will agree with me—I think it is clear that, as the Bill stands, it applies to Ireland, because there is no exemption Clause. It is true that in Clause 5 it says that "this Act shall apply to Scotland," with the substitution of references to the Police Act of 1890; but the governing Clause in the Bill is Clause 1, which only deals with constables or other members of a police force. We have in Ireland two police forces—the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police—and it seems to me that, as the Bill stands, it would certainly apply to those two bodies. The Chief Secretary for Ireland to-day introduced a Bill—the Constabulary and Police (Ireland) Bill to amend the law relating to the pay and pensions of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police; and for other purposes in connection with those forces. That Bill has not yet been printed. I want to say to the Home Secretary that I hope he will allow this Bill to stand as it stands now until we see what are the proposals in the Irish Bill. If they do not cover the cases parallel to those covered in this Bill, the matter will be one for further consideration; and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will allow this to stand permanently. At the present time I can tell him that the widows of policemen in Ireland, under the existing law, are only eligible for a pension of £10 a year. This is wholly inadequate. As this present Bill gives £26 as a minimum, I hope that, as the conditions in the cost of living, and so on, do not vary very greatly in Ireland to here, that the provisions of this Bill, unless the Irish Bill provides equally good pensions for the widows of Irish policemen, will be allowed to stand, and that the right hon. Gentleman will extend the Bill to Ireland.


I shall in a few words reply to the points raised by the various speakers. In regard to the point raised by the last speaker my impression is that the Bill does not apply to Ireland, because it amends an Act which itself did not apply to Ireland. I think the hon. Member (Mr. Alden) is under a misapprehension in regard to the point he put forward. We propose to repeal altogether the Section of the Act of 1890, not only as regards the amount of the officer's remuneration out of the moneys provided by Parliament, but in other respects. If I am right in that, there is nothing left for me to argue, but if the hon. Member differs from me I hope he will carry out the suggestion he makes, which I will accept, and that he will come to see me about the matter so that it may be cleared up.


Do I understand that practically my observation does not apply, and that this Clause is worded in a way that no constable is left out and no pension deducted?


None at all under Clause 13. I do not know what other my hon. Friend has in mind.


Clause 3—"out of public funds "—Section 13.


It is a general term that covers both money provided by Parliament and out of the county or borough rate.


But there are two distinct references in Section 13 of the Police Act of 1890 which differentiates between the county and the borough rate funds.


I disagree. The Act of 1890 has two references. "Money provided by Parliament or the county or borough rate or fund." In my view both these funds are public funds; therefore the effect of this Clause is to apply in that sense. However, I will look into the matter. In regard to the other point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North St. Pancras as to whether the Bill applies to police officers of all grades, I think it does. It is true the word "constable" is used, but so it is in the Act of 1890. It is used as a general term which I think covers police officers of all grades.


What is the difference between the two terms in (a) and (b) of Clause1?


None. It may be a drafting point though, which I will look into. With respect to other points I can only say that I propose to consider the various arguments put forward, though I cannot give any promise to accept the proposals.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for To-morrow.—[Sir G. Cave].