HC Deb 01 August 1919 vol 118 cc2474-8

1. All members of the police forces of England and Wales below the rank of superintendent shall be members of the Federation, which shall act through branch boards, central conferences, and central committees as is hereinafter provided.


I beg to move to leave out the words all members of the polios forces of England and Wales below the rank of superintendent shall be members of the Federation which, and to insert instead thereof the words the Federation shall consist of all members for the time being of the several police forces in England and Wales below the rank of superintendent, and the Federation. We want to ensure that in so far as this organisation gives benefits to any individual nothing shall be able to prevent his getting those benefits. You cannot force a man to take the benefits of an organisation, but you can ensure that if ho wants those benefits he can have them. That was all that we wished to ensure, and I think that this probably secures that in a less provocative and mandatory form.

Amendment agreed to.

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


I desire to avail myself of this opportunity to repeat our protest against the Bill. Our appreciation of the financial provisions of the Bill is in no way diminished by our hostility to its other provisions. We regret that those financial provisions have not been submitted to us in some measure which would offer less controversial features than the Bill with which we are dealing. I would remind the House of the circumstances out of which the Bill arose, though I do not wish to discuss those circumstances. Like other fathers of families and wage earners, policemen have many grievances arising out of the increased cost of living, and of incidental circumstances which made life rather difficult for men of low earnings during the course of the War. They did not secure redress by the usual opportunities which we reopen to them. I think that the police force has suffered from an inaccessibility to the higher authorities, especially in great centres of population like London, and other big cities, who have to determine their conditions of service, and I fear that some of these men who were in the very highest positions failed to appreciate the reality of the grievance of men who could not profiteer. They were not like so many men who were employed at munitions and could increase greatly their weekly income by the services which they were able to render during the War. It is true, indeed, of men like policemen as of a very large number of those who are classed as lower middle class, that they were the greatest sufferers from the adverse conditions which arose and spread during the course of the War, and that these conditions confirmed more than ever the fact that the policeman's lot was not a happy one.

They tried in many ways to get redress and failed, and then the idea of a trade union came to them in a most natural way. I have said on previous occasions that the men of the police force constitute a body of servants circumstanced somewhat differently from other people who have to deal with employers of labour. They have-to serve the public in a different manner, and I regret that some means were not devised whereby the advantages of association could have been given to policemen in regard to using collectively at least moral authority, and using the assistance which comes from being able to appoint delegates to see that their grievances should be redressed, while at the same time guarding us against the calamities of a cessation of service on the part of such an indispensable body. I do not want to pursue the topic as to who is most to blame for the failure to come to an agreement. This Bill arises out of those circumstances, but it is a Bill against which we must protest, because it is offered as a remedy against conditions of discontent, and I am quite certain that it will itself arouse as much discontent as it will allay. Earlier to-day I said that the right hon. Gentleman was taking too optimistic a view of the outlook with regard to the course. which certain policemen took in different parts of London last night. I hope I am mistaken. I do not want to say a single thing which will encourage any spread of disaffection amongst the men or which will in any way make it, difficult to compose the differences which still exist. As I said, I felt that this was an opportune time, not for persevering with this instrument of force by which the Government proposes to compel these men to do something which many of them are unwilling to do, but for withdrawing this proposal and taking other steps for getting these differences composed. I trust that, despite this Bill, the high sense of duty in public service, and the general safeguard of the public well-being which has been the charge of these men individually, will not be forgotten by the force at this moment when their loyalty to the community is being tested. They can, I think, even now turn to the persons in authority who will have the formation of these different branches of the Federation in their keeping with, I hope, some prospect that their grievances in respect of pension, pay, promotion and other matters will be redressed; but I do really feel that in later years, if not now, these grievances that rankle, and this sense of lost freedom, will be a cause of recurring discontent among the force, which has a great reputation for answering to any kind of word of command which those in charge have been able to give them.

The real point which we have reached, as manifest by this Hill, is this, Is the Government to give way or are the men to give way? That is putting it in the crudest form. My view was that the situation was not so highly strained as to make it essential that either should give way. I would have preferred that neither should have claimed a victory over the other, but that there should have been steps taken that would have brought both parties together on lines where reason would decide and not force. I rather gather that the Home Secretary, if he ever had any faith, has lost the faith he had in the officials who happened to be appointed at the head of the Police Union, and he has quoted their disregarded word and bond. Personally, I know little of these men. All I know is that they are the choice of those who selected them, and I think that such as they are they would have been a means to more reasonable approaches if the Home Secretary had chosen to follow that course. Whilst we must submit to this Third Heading and see this Bill become law, we cannot do so without recording our protest against the course which the Government has taken; but at the same time we express the hope that in the mass the policemen will not be unmindful of that measure of loyalty they have shown, and will use this Federation as far as they are able in order to make it workable, and in order to make it respond to the real grievances which undoubtedly these men feel.


I should like to express my personal appreciation of the very moderate and kind tone adopted right through the discussion by my right hon. Friend, because apparently—I think it is due to some misunderstanding—he does feel that in some way or other this measure is an attack upon trade unionism I can assure him it was not intended to be so, and I am convinced it is not. I hope his doleful forebodings as to the effect of the provisions of this Bill on the feelings of the police force will not be realised. Personally, I think they are quite ungrounded. I believe the force will accept this measure as one which makes for nothing but the efficiency and the welfare of the force. I can assure him of this, that at any rate while I have anything to do with it, the provisions by which any constable can take his grievances to the highest authority will be carried out in the most generous spirit. I believe the effect of this will be to enable the police to get a force of their own within themselves, conducted by those who would understand all their aspirations and their grievances and fulfil the one and remedy the other. I would remind my right hon. Friend, in regard to the men chosen by the police in the National Union, that they have not even been true to their own members, because, after all, they persuaded the police to join that union, first, under the promise that they would not strike at all, and, secondly, under the promise that they would not strike without a two-thirds majority ballot of their own members. Last night they would not even keep faith with their own members, to say nothing of the police authorities. I hope the House will give this Bill a Third Reading and let it pass into law as quickly as possible.


I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill one or two questions in reference to pensions. I understood from him, in regard to the second Report of the Committee appointed to deal with the con- ditions of the police, that its recommendations will not require legislation to carry them out.


That is so.


It seems to me that in stating that the right hon. Gentleman is not aware of the important recommendations which will be made in that second Report. On this question of pensions, we have in the Bill made provisions for the pensions of the police which have given general satisfaction to the force, and for which we are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. But there is a very important body of police pensioners who are affected by this Bill, and whom we would like to see dealt with in the same generous spirit. I refer to the aged pensioners whose pensions were granted many years ago, and whose pensions to-day are totally inadequate to allow the old men and their wives even to live in decency. The other day the right hon. Gentleman was asked to state the number of pensioners in the Metropolis. The figures he gave were, I think, 9,700, and of that total about 550 were pensioners over the age of seventy-five. These pensions were given years ago, and in a great many cases they are below, or certainly do, not exceed, £l per week for a man and his wife to live on. If we cannot bring that problem before the House in the form of legislation, I should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman now how he proposes, and whether he proposes, to deal with these cases of hardship?

We are grateful for this Bill. I believe if the opposition of hon. Gentlemen opposite to certain Clauses was not based on the supposition that trade unions are attacked, they would have appreciated the fact that this force is a citizen force which has to deal with all citizens, and in its history it has had to deal between trade unions and non-trade unions. A trade union which is sought for would be against the whole principle of the police force in this country. I believe that this Bill would have been passed without opposition if hon. Members who objected had been told before that there was no attack on trade unions of the country.

Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed.