HC Deb 05 May 1919 vol 115 cc709-16

Order for Second Reading read.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir Hamar Greenwood)

I beg to move: That the Bill be now read a Second time. This is a Bill the scope of which is restricted to the City of London, and its object is to enable the Corporation, as the rating authority of the City, to increase the maximum rate from 8d. to 1s. 1d. in the £, which is the maximum rate now permissible to the Metropolitan area. The Bill amends the original Police Act of 1839, under which the City Police were set up, and the Corporation of the City of London assumed one-fourth of the cost of the local police. In those days the police force was 503 strong, and the total cost was £37,960. Now the total strength is 1,136, and for the year 1919–20 the cost will be approximately £314,376. The enormous growth in cost is due to the increase in the strength and very largely to the increase in pay, pensions, and other allowances. This Bill is asked for—and, as far as I know, there is no opposition to the Second Reading at any rate—by the Corporation of the City of London, in order to enable them to meet the changing conditions which the growth and the importance of the City of London has put upon them. The heavy charge upon the Corporation became so pronounced last year that the Government was compelled to make an Exchequer Grant in relief of the charge upon the Corporation in the maintenance of its police force. But even then, and under this Bill, the City of London is in a worse position in so far as Exchequer Grants are concerned than any other police force in the Kingdom, because throughout England and Wales the police forces are now supported half out of the rates and half out of Exchequer Grants. The City of London is not in such a good position as that, and they are entitled to this relief, without which they would be unable either to maintain the strength of the force that now exists or to maintain the charges in the way of wages, pensions, and allowances that they do of their own free will, or are by Statute compelled to make. I hope, therefore, the House will give the Bill a Second Reading without opposition, and that any discussion may take place before the Select Committee to which the Bill will be sent, and before which every opportunity to criticise or amend the Bill will be given.


I welcome the Bill, which is introduced for the purpose of increasing wages and making more ample provision so far as pension is concerned, and the other emoluments of the members of the City of London Police. As representing the Labour party, I am pleased when a Bill of that character is introduced. I also recognise the limited nature of the Bill, and I have no intention of making more than a few general observations thereon.

For some time past there has been a considerable amount of unrest among the policemen of London and other centres. This Bill makes certain provisions that will allay to some extent that feeling of unrest, but I warn the Government that the provision in this Bill will by no means satisfy all the claims of the policemen of London. The fact that there was a large demonstration yesterday, attended by something like 9,000 policemen, is, I think, proof positive that the introduction of this Bill is not going to entirely allay the feeling of unrest among that estimable body of men, and I think the Government would be well advised to deal with this matter in a more extensive way than is provided within the terms of this Bill. One of the questions, so far as I can understand it, that is exercising a considerable amount of attention among the members of the police force, is the fact that their trade union has not received official recognition. I do not think that the Government in taking up an attitude of that kind are dealing with the policemen in a fair and equitable manner. The Government, through the Industrial Conference, are urging employers of labour in the various sections of the industrial system of this country to give full recognition to the trade unions of the men they employ. If that is the position of the Government so far as the private employer is concerned, I think they will be bound to give the same recognition when it applies to a body of men for which they are themselves largely responsible.

When the trouble arose in August of last year I happened to be in London and saw what London was like without the services of the police. I would not like to see a repetition of what occurred then, but I fear that unless this matter is dealt with in a more generous spirit than exists at the present that we may have even a more serious state of affairs developing so far as the policemen are concerned than we had in August last. The men feel strongly that the pledges given by the Prime Minister on that occasion, pledges which they thought were given by an authority who would see that they were carried out, are not being carried out in the spirit in which they were given. If you have a feeling like that among a body of men you are bound to have trouble and dissatisfaction growing, and I would take this opportunity of urging the Home Secretary and the Government to deal with the matter entirely. In August last undoubted grievances were left out and were not dealt with, notwithstanding the earnest and urgent requests that were put forward repeatedly by the men, and this culminated in one of the worst strikes I have seen in this country. I mean worst from the point of view of the body of men involved. If that feeling of dissatisfaction still remains, if the men have good grounds for believing that the Prime Minister's pledges are not being carried out, that the administration of the force is not done in a sympathetic spirit that they are entitled to expect, and that they are not getting that recognition from the Government that the Government is urging private employers to give to the trade unions responsible for the men they employ, then we may have an even more serious state of affairs developing. I would earnestly plead with the Home Secretary to take this matter in hand before that more serious state of affairs does develop. I think it is a very good indication of the feeling among the London policemen that the demonstration took place yesterday, and the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised to deal with what appears to me to be a very urgent matter.


I am pleased to find that my right hon. Friend is not opposing the Second Reading of this Bill, because, although, as he very truly says, this Bill by no means meets all that is necessary to be done for the police force, it is at any rate a necessary step in that direction, and as a necessary step, and only as a necessary step, does it meet that particular side of the question. Of course, it has the other side, namely, that it is necessary to make this financial adjustment. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the condition of the police force in London, I may be wrong, but I think he has drawn a somewhat exaggerated view. He thinks not. I am perfectly well aware that there are not only grievances, but legitimate grievances, in the police force. There is at the present moment sitting a Committee which is dealing with a number of questions, and amongst them the question of their pay, pensions, and allowances, and also the method of recruiting, and so on. There is another Committee, which has only just commenced, which is dealing with the whole question of medical attention and the provision of medical attention. In addition to that there is the question of the reconstruction of the representation boards.

When we come to the question of the Police Union, I do not want the House to be under any misapprehension. I cannot agree with what my right hon. Friend has said almost in any respect whatever. He speaks of the recognition of the union. The Prime Minister made no pledge that there should be recognition of the union. I was a spectator of the meeting yesterday. I could not get near enough to hear everything that was said, but I know pretty well what was said, and the statement that there was any pledge that after the War there should be recognition of the union is absolutely unfounded. There was no such pledge. The War Cabinet has considered the question since then, and they have decided that there cannot be recognition of the union. I do not want to go into the whole question now. I hope we shall have a Debate on the whole question very shortly, and I shall welcome it and shall then be able to justify my position. To-night I do not justify my position, but I merely state my position and the position of the Government, and that is that recognition of the union is impossible, and I think nothing proves that more conclusively than what took place at Trafalgar Square yesterday and what was said.

With regard to the question of unrest among the police, there is sure to be unrest among a body, who, I say it advisedly, are not treated as well as they ought to be. The police are a very exceptional body of men. They are not in the least like the ordinary employés dealing with their employers. They have great responsibilities. They have great powers. They must exercise those powers, and perform their duties under a sense of responsibility, but also under the control which is absolutely essential. There you have a large body of men performing duties, and having large powers, which are exercised in the restriction of the liberties of the public, who can only be regulated properly as a disciplined force under proper control. That is the position of the police to-day. I realise fully, and I hope that the Committee may come to the same conclusion, that they are not paid as well as they ought to be, and that their position is not as good as, I think, it ought to be. That is my personal opinion. I have done what I can in the short time I have been at the Home Office, by setting up those Committees, and by investigating all the other subjects, to try to see to it that, at any rate so far as it is possible to avoid it, the police of this country shall have no economic grievance to complain of. But to suggest that their work is like the ordinary work of the miner, or the engineer, is the last thing I am sure which my right hon. Friend would wish to do. Therefore, the only thing for this House to decide, when it comes to the point is, having regard to this difference and to the extremely diffi- cult, delicate, and dangerous nature of their duties and powers, what is the right form of control and what is the right form in which they should exercise the rights which trade unionism means to other people, because they must have the power of combining together to discuss their position, their circumstances and their grievances, and of pointing them out to the proper quarter. We all admit that. The only question is how it is to be done by an outside union, exercising the power that a union possesses.


A union composed of the men themselves, which is quite a different matter.


I think that I shall be able to show conclusively that it is an outside union. It is a body composed of policemen and ex-policemen, because they are not all serving. The secretary of the union, a very capable man, Sergeant Haynes, is no longer a member of the Force.

Captain SMITH

That is hardly fair. The secretary could not perform the duties of his position if he were a member of the force.


I think it perfectly fair to point out that it is not composed entirely of policemen, and that the most important official is no longer a member of the force.


At the same time, it should be remembered, that in all trade unions, where the secretary is appointed he ceased as a general rule, to work at the trade, and a policeman is in that position. His whole time is taken up with the affairs of his union.


That may be, but it is not necessary that the secretary should be or even should have been a policeman. However, I do not want to take up time with this. I only wish to let my right hon. Friend know definitely what the position is, so that when we do come to the Debate, which must come on soon, he shall know exactly where we stand, and what is the position which I shall try to substantiate. I hope that the House will now give this Bill a Second Reading. It is a matter as to which, after very careful consideration, this was decided to be the only possible way to arrange the affairs of the City Police. It only affects the City Police.


I have read the Bill very carefully. I do not find any part of it which touches the question in controversy between the two right hon. Gentlemen. At the proper time I shall hold myself open either to support or oppose the Government as I think fit, when the arguments are given more fully in the Debate, which will be of considerable interest. As one who has paid rates now for nearly forty years in the City of London, I may say that this Bill will affect me by making me pay more rates, but, despite the fact, I think that it is a necessary Bill, and in the interests of the efficiency of the police of the City of London, and in justice to the corporation, the Bill should receive a Second Reading, and I hope that it will go successfully through a Committee.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time.


That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of Five Members, Three to be nominated by the House and Two by the Committee of Selection.


That all Petitions against the Bill presented three clear days before the meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee; that the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents, be heard against the Bill, and Counsel heard in support of the Bill.


That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.


That Three be the quorum.—[Mr. Shortt.]

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Adjourned at a Quarter before Nine o'clock.