HC Deb 01 August 1919 vol 118 cc2457-68

If any person causes, or attempts to cause, or does any act calculated to cause disaffection amongst the members of any police force, or induces, or attempts to induce, or does any act calculated to induce any member of a police force to withhold his services or to commit breaches of discipline, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding two years, or on summary conviction, to imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding three months, or to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds, or to both such imprisonment and fine, and in either case if a member of a police force shall forfeit all pension rights, and be disqualified for being a member of any police force.


I beg to move to leave out Clause 3.

I would like to appeal to the Home Secretary either to assent to modify its terms or to take it out of the Bill altogether. This Clause proposes very severe penalties to persons who cause disaffection, and it deals with attempts to cause disaffection or what may be calculated to cause it, or attempts to induce others to do certain things. In the present temper of the country it is highly undesirable especially in a Bill which deprives a body of important public servants, as we believe, of individual freedom, to strengthen the law in respect of acts of prosecution against persons who may be innocently engaged in the trade union service. If a trade union agent from some public platform expressed the view that policemen were entitled to the same rights of organisation and ought to exercise them as other people, under this Clause he would be liable to prosecution and to the infliction of the very severe penalties which are mentioned in this Clause. This Clause may be regarded by organised trade unionists as a challenge, and if not that, certainly it will be considered as an attempt to greatly lessen. organised service not only in relation to policemen, but to many other public servants, and it will deprive a certain section, of men of their right to voluntary combination. I think the object of the Government can be met without stirring up the suspicion and dissatisfaction which is bound to arise under a Clause of this kind.


This Clause is in no sense a challenge to trade unionism, and in no sense will it reduce the power of trade unionism in so far as it is properly exercised. It does not deal with anyone who attempts to improve the position of the police or with anyone who seeks to improve their conditions, pay, pensions, or anything else, but it does aim at those who seek to deprive the public of that protection to their lives and their property which the police are pledged to give. We know that there are people in this country whose objects are not those of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but whose methods are of such a nature that it is essential for them to be able to have a disaffected police force that they can rely upon not to fail the country during some crisis. Therefore we must have this protection. The Bill does not touch trade unionism, and it does not prevent any individual doing anything which he can legitimately and properly do as a trade unionist, and trade unionists will not be affected. It is the agent of disaffection and of revolution and the agent of real mischief which is aimed at in this Clause, and I ask the House to retain it in the Bill.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The right hon. Gentleman did not say any- thing about the Press. I would like to ask if newspapers will be prevented from commenting upon matters affecting the police.


No one would be touched who really points out grievances which ought to be remedied, but if the Press set themselves to incite the police to strike at a time when some strike was on, and they wanted the police to help them, of course they would come under this Bill.


This Clause seems to me to be very far-reaching, and it possibly might be used in a way which was never intended. As I read the Clause, it might give people the opportunity to charge others who are only doing what they may think they have a legal and constitutional right to do, and it might place those people in a very unfair position. The police force is one of which we are all very proud, and we as trade unionists, with all our years of experience, can freely say that we have always found them doing their duty to protect property, and they have never assisted strikes or strikers, and from that standpoint we have nothing very much to talk about. The strike which has happened will undoubtedly be crushed, but it will leave behind it a sting in the hearts and the mass of the people affected by it, and it will mean that people who have a grievance may be victimised. A statement may be carried from one mouth to another until it reaches the proper person, and charges might be levelled even against myself or any other hon. Member of this House who have no desire to break the law. Therefore this. Clause ought to be withdrawn or amended in some way so as to modify it in order to safeguard innocent people from being penalised who have no desire to break the law.

Lieut.-Commander WILLIAMS

No one regrets more than I do that this Bill has been necessary, but I think we must all realise that the unfortunate conditions of the past few years brought about by the neglect of the Government during the War of the police force has brought about an unsatisfactory condition of things. The opinion which I believe every hon. Member of this House holds is that the police force should be put into such a position that under no circumstances whatever is it likely that they will be a fruitful ground for agitation of any kind. Their pay and their conditions should be good in every way, but we must always remember that this particular force is entirely different from any other trade, organisation, or business in the country. They are there to keep the ring. It is possible that they may have to guard a trade union office to-morrow, or an employer's office. It does not matter. They have to do their duty to the State. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on what he has done for the police. We support him in the whole of this Bill, because we realise that for the good and safety of the nation the police must be guarded against people who go about making mischief in the force. It is a very dangerous thing for anyone to try and interfere with them in any way, and I do, therefore, hope that the Government will strongly support this Clause.


This Clause imposes very heavy penalties for offences. I do not find fault with the period of imprisonment or the amount of the fine, but I do suggest that the last sentence in the Clause ought to be deleted. It means that a man when he has paid his fine and served his period of imprisonment may be further punished by loss of pension. That is very harsh punishment. He pays towards the fund from which the pension is drawn, and I submit that the right hon. Gentleman should agree to the deletion of these words. A man who has been twenty years in the force may be convicted of some offence, and to say that he shall be fined and imprisoned and then forfeit his pension to which he has contributed, is carrying the thing a little too far. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will agree to the Amendment.


I would like to support the appeal made by my hon. Friend. I am not a lawyer, but I think the words "attempts to cause disaffection" are rather ambiguous. Almost any suggestion to the police in connection with their pay or conditions of service might possibly be construed by the legal mind to be something calculated to cause disaffection. Surely the phraseology is rather loose, at any rate it appears to be so to the lay mind. It may be that the word "disaffection" has a particular meaning in the law, but it certainly seems to leave people open to charges for offences with very little reason. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will respond to the appeal and delete the last words of the Clause. At any rate, it should be made optional to the judge to say whether a police constable who is overtaken in a fault of this sort should be deprived of his pension rights or become disqualified from being a member of the police force. It is really carrying the penalty too far. It should not be in the Bill at all, and in any case it should be left to the discretion of the judge who would be influenced by the particular circumstances of the case to say whether it should be inflicted or not.


I desire very respectfully to make a suggestion. There is a good deal in what has been said with regard to the possibility of a person offending against this Clause quite innocently, and every Member would desire to prevent that possibility. I am anxious to make it impossible for an innocent person to suffer by reason of the Clause, and I therefore respectfully suggest the introduction of the word "wilfully" so as to protect the innocent person. The Clause then would read "If any person wilfully—" That would satisfy me, and I think it would satisfy the objections which have been raised by some hon. Members.


I desire to support the Government in the general principle of this Bill, but I would certainly like to join in the appeal which has been made to the right hon. Gentleman to modify the last words of the Clause. The other penalties, of course, are within the discretion of the judge, but as the Clause stands forfeiture of pension rights must take place in any event. I think that ought to be altered. There should be some discretion as to whether it has been a bad case or not.


If a man is convicted, or is even suspected of being inclined to stir up dissatisfaction in the force, it is absolutely necessary that hr should be turned out of the force. Therefore, I do not see how you can take these words out of the Clause. I quite agree that there may be hard cases, and it may be. very difficult for the Home Secretary and the police authorities to say whether a man ought to be proceeded against or not. The moment there is any question of proceeding against him, however, he is a man who ought to be out of the force I hope, there-fore, that the Government will stick to these words. The word "wilfully" goes too far, because we know how difficult it is to prove whether a man has done a thing intentionally or not, but whether the Home Secretary can modify the sentence is another thing. It is part of the essence of the Bill that the man should be turned out of the force, and I do not think that hon. Members who have suggested the omission of these words realise that fact.

Colonel GREIG

It seems to me the guarantee to the House that the Clause will be put into operation in a proper manner is contained in the words "on conviction he shall be liable." If the case comes before the stipendiary magistrate, or before the High Court then surely we can trust the judges or the magistrates to investigate the particular circumstances. We are sure that judges will give the most careful and sympathetic consideration to cases of this kind. We are proud of the way which we can trust those who are charged with the administration of the law.


We cannot always trust the magistrates.

Colonel GREIG

Of course we know that some magistrates may go wrong, but it is the exception and not the rule-I want the Committee to bear in mind that the offence we are here dealing with is a very grave one. I agree that the words at the end of the Clause are very severe, but what may be a very minor offence in a man outside the police force becomes very serious in the case of a man inside the force. The main thing is, I imagine, that the penalty to which the man may render himself liable will act as a deterrent. It would be a very bad thing indeed to leave discretion to the judge or to anybody else, because they might err on the side of sympathy. It is far better that Parliament should take upon itself the duty of laying down what shall be the punishment in cases of this nature, and we ought not even to leave it to the Secretary of State. We should ourselves declare what is the unavoidable penalty in cases where men commit these offences.


I am sure my hon. Friends opposite have not considered how far their proposal is taking them. It has been assumed by most of the speakers that for a very venial offence a policeman may be penalised by the loss of his pension. If that were a possibility, I am sure every Member of the House would support the appeal made by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Tyson Wilson). But, as a matter of fact, as the last speaker well said, there can be no comparison between policemen and ordinary trade unionists. It has been argued as if the circumstances in the two cases were the same. But let it be borne in mind that no trade unionist has to take an oath of service to his employer, whereas a policeman does take an oath to the Crown that he will do certain things as a policeman. There are moral values involved in these conditions. If we are to agree that a man may break his sworn word with impunity, I would like to know where we shall find ourselves. I say that a man who does so must suffer a penalty commensurate with the crime committed, and that, at any rate, will act, as a deterrent to other people who may be tempted to follow his example. Therefore, while I believe that the men would get consideration from the permanent officials or from the Home Secretary, I think we must be careful where we are going, because if we are going to give a licence to a man to break his obligations, which surely have a moral value, we are going along the path which leads to chaos and disorder in the country.


I quite agree that this Clause is very severe, and that it is intended to have a wide application. The crime against which it is aimed is a far-reaching one. It is the offence of causing disaffection or doing things likely to cause disaffection, and it is quite right that the penalty in such a case should be severe. A policeman found guilty of the offence will, under the Clause, forfeit his pension and be prevented ever again becoming a policeman. I have stood up pretty often to protest against severe sentences in different Acts of Parliament, and I have not received very much backing, I am afraid, from Labour Members. But I say it is absolutely necessary to support the Government in carrying a strong Clause of this nature, and I will tell the House why it is so important. I have attended meetings time and again where it has been the declared object of the speakers to ruin England as a constitutional State. I have heard them say, "We don't mean to fight; we don't mean to go in front of the guns. We are not up against the policeman's baton, but we want to get round the loyalty of the Army and the police force, so that those men may fight on our side." I am sure no one has the slightest sympathy with or intention of supporting men who advocate such doctrines. These are the men who have been sowing disaffection among the police and among the troops. The Home Office made a lamentable failure on the occasion of the last police strike. I am glad it is now showing some backbone, and I for one am prepared to support it whole-heartedly in carrying this Clause into the Act of Parliament.

What we are seeking to do is to protect the police force from outside interference, because we know that otherwise chaos and ruin will come upon us. We know what disorders occurred during the last strike, and it would be a wrong thing for us in any way to weaken this Clause. It would be very easy for an agitator to say, "I did not know when I was doing this thing that it would affect the police force, or that the leaflets which I was issuing would sow disaffection amongst the members of that force." We must prevent such things occurring. It is idle to suggest that we are denying policemen the common rights of citizenship. Men who take certain positions under a constitutional Government must always give up certain rights. It might easily be made a complaint that because Mr. Speaker holds his position he has to give up a right common to every Member of this House—the right of voting in Divisions. Officials of Government Departments, when they take certain positions, are called upon to surrender certain specific rights; and as to the suggestion of the hon. Member that if this Clause is persisted in it will deter men joining the police force in the future, because they will not agree to be subjected to this penalty, I can only say I do not believe it will deter a single man. I am sure that when a policeman joins the force and takes the oath of allegiance, he means to keep it. If he docs not, then the punishment ought to be severe. I have never before supported a penal Clause of this character, but I do-hope that the Government will press this, because it will keep people from interfering either with the police or with the Army. The members of the force will have the fullest protection under this Clause. They will be protected by the-magistrates.


They have not sufficient representation.


I quite agree. I might remind my hon. Friend that I was the means of having an Amendment made to a Bill which is now the law providing that in every case of conviction by a magistrate there should be an appeal. In the Criminal Law Amendment Act there is an appeal to the High Court judges


The Clause deals with conviction on indictment.


And summary conviction as well. Once a man is convicted by a Court of first instance and on appeal for an offence so insidious and grave as this is, this penalty ought to be imposed, and I trust the House will show strength and support the Home Secretary.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, to leave out the words and in either case if a member of a police force shall forfeit all pension rights and be disqualified for being a member of any police force. If these words be left in a man may be fined £l or £2 without any imprisonment at all, and he then forfeits all pension rights, and it is made imperative that he should be discharged from the force. That is where the harshness comes in. He may be convicted of an offence in one locality for which he would not be proceeded against in another locality. In that case, in one locality he would not be considered a fit and proper person to be in the force, whereas in the other he would be admitted to the force. These words impose a very severe penalty indeed. I hope that the Home Secretary, if he will not accept the Amendment, will consider the desirability of modifying these words in another place. I am certain he would not like a man to be fined £l for some offence under this Clause, arid, because of that, should forfeit all his pension rights to which he has contributed for fifteen or twenty years. Even at the eleventh hour I hope the Home Secretary will accept the Amendment. If there is anything like a spontaneous strike after this Bill becomes law, it will be because the men in the force feel that an Injustice has been done to an individual member of the force and that, Act or no Act, they should take such action which they thought might influence the people responsible for the action taken.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I agree with a good deal that has been said as to the necessity for keeping up discipline in the police force and punish- ing severely any person who causes disaffection in it. Here, a policeman, who has been tried and summarily convicted, may be punished by a small fine, yet that has to be followed up by the forfeiture of all pension rights. That is carrying the punishment too far. In Scotland we say that when a man has the led his assize he must not be tried again. A man may be tried for a technical offence. The magistrate may impose a small fine or a short period of imprisonment. That carries with it the forfeiture of the pension. That carries an element of vindictiveness alien to all sense of justice. I agree that there should be the option to the judge to deprive a man of pension rights or to order that he shall no longer be a member of the force. I would ask the Home Secretary to leave it to the option of the judge to decide whether a man should be deprived of his pension rights or that he shall no longer be a member of the force. I recognise the difficulty of amending the Clause to provide for that, but I would join in the appeal that between this stage and the Bill being taken in another place the Home Secretary should consider whether he could not modify in some way or other the harshness of this part of the Clause.


I hope the House will not accept this Amendment. It may be possible for me, before the Bill actually receives the Royal Assent, to consider some proposal with regard to the pension. It is highly improbable that a member of the police force guilty of any of the crimes which are dealt with in this Clause would ever get off with a fine of £1 or a. short period of imprisonment. Some hon. Members appear to have forgotten the fact that a policeman who is charged under this Bill is, in fact, a traitor, nothing more nor less.


A man who is charged under this Bill?


Of course, I am talking of conviction.


You said "charged."


If I said "charged" it was a slip which I should have thought would have been apparent to anybody. A man who is convicted under this Clause is a traitor pure and simple. He is a man who, having taken an oath himself, tries to incite other people to break theirs. That he should possibly remain a member of the force is out of the question. I cannot consider any Amendment of the words "disqualified for being a member of any police force," but with regard to the pension it might be met with some provision whereby the Secretary of State or the police authority or somebody else in special circumstances could decide it in a different way. Generally speaking, the principle ought to be that a man who has taken the oath and become a policeman and who is guilty of any of the charges which are made under this Clause ought to be very severely punished, far more severely punished than any ordinary member of the public. I hope the House will not accept the Amendment, but between now and a later stage of the Bill I will consider how far it is possible to make some provision for the less severe or grave cases not losing their pension rights. I cannot give any promise about it, but I will consider between now and a later period whether anything of that sort can be done.


I would remind hon. Members that a Civil servant is also under disabilities. If he commits an offence such as a breach of the Official Secrete. Act he may not only be dismissed but also lose his pension. A Civil servant does not take the obligation of an oath in the same way as a policeman. It is a mistake to think that a policeman who commits a misdemeanour under the Bill should get off. A policeman is in a position different from any other individual, and while it is quite true that he loses certain rights, it is also a fact that Civil servants lose certain rights. A Civil servant is precluded entirely from taking any part in civil government. He can take no part in the work of county councils or town councils. To say that a policeman should have certain rights which a Civil servant has not got is going beyond the point. I trust under the circumstances the Government will stick to their measure, because there are men going about to-day who are doing their level best to cause dissatisfaction amongst the police force and the Army, and these are the very men who, during all the years we were at war, were not only unwilling to serve, but were doing all they could to bring about disaster to this country. I trust the Government will keep to the Bill and that the House will support the Government in making it as strong as possible, in order that this dissatisfaction may cease once and for all.


I take it the right hon. Gentleman is, at present at any rate, inclined to put some such provision as this into the Bill?


I am considering it, at any rate. I think possibly it would be a wise thing to do.


If the right hon. Gentleman will give it favourable consideration, I will not press it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.