§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Short)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Part I of the Bill applies to the staff employed at New Scotland Yard under the Commissioner of Police, under the Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District and at the police courts under the Chief Magistrate. It does not apply to any member of the Metropolitan Police Force or to the police magistrates. Part II applies to the keeping of the banking accounts of the Metropolitan Police Fund, and the drawing of cheques. Clauses 1 and 2 bring the pension conditions of the civilian staff paid from the Metropolitan Police Fund into line with those of the Civil Service as regards (1) gratuities to unestablished employés who leave after long service and (2) the commutation of compensation allowances granted on abolition of office or removal from office.
The Metropolitan Police Staff (Superannuation) Act, 1875, provides that the pension conditions of established civilian staff paid out of the Metropolitan Police Fund are similar to those of civil servants employed in other Government Departments, but the Act gives no power to the Secretary of State to grant gratuities to the unestablished staff, nor does it enable any commutation of compensation allowances granted upon abolition of office or removal from office. The absence of this power occasions great hardship particularly to those members who are unestablished. It is possible for a man employed by the Receiver in a temporary capacity, say, for 21 years or over to be unable to receive any 143 gratuity on his retirement, and yet had he been employed in some other Government Department, such as the Office of Works, that financial privilege would have been extended to him. Part I of the Bill is designed to remove what I hope the House will consider to be an anomaly and a grievance. Respecting commutation, I am assured that cases of commutation will rarely arise, but we are taking power in Clause 2 to deal with the matter. Although it is a new power in relation to this Fund it is a power that exists, if I am informed correctly, throughout the Civil Service.
Part II of the Bill deals with the administrative difficulty to which I have referred. The effect of Section 10 of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1829, is that each cheque drawn daily in the office of the Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District for making payments from the Metropolitan Police Fund must be countersigned by the Commissioner of Police, an Assistant Commissioner or a Deputy-Assistant Commissioner. This provision gives rise to great inconvenience, and, on occasion, delay. The financial responsibility for the issue and signing of these cheques is vested in the Receiver, and in the future, if this Bill becomes an Act, it is proposed that an officer of the Receiver's Department shall countersign the cheques instead of the officers to whom I have referred. I am advised that the Comptroller and Auditor-General agrees with this course, and is satisfied that the proposal embodied in Part II will maintain the necessary check on payments out of the fund, and provide adequate safeguards. The Bill further provides for the opening of other accounts. For example, when the Lost Property Office was transferred from New Scotland Yard to Lambeth, difficulties arose because there they could not open an account locally. Under this new provision they will be able to open an account, as it were, on the spot and pay moneys into the account.
I might say one word in relation to the cost. Part II of the Bill involves no financial expenditure whatsoever. With regard to Part I, any expenditure will be met from the Metropolitan Police Fund. I am unable to say what the exact figure will be in any given period. It is very problematical. In fact, there may be little or no expenditure for some years, 144 and the maximum amount by way of gratuities, I am informed, is not likely to exceed a sum of £500 in any one year. As the Financial Memorandum explains, there will be no direct charge on the Exchequer, but so long as the Exchequer makes a grant-in-aid to the police for expenditure, then an amount not exceeding one-half the total cost will be annually borne by that grant. As regards commutation of compensation allowances, as the Financial Memorandum points out, it will not increase the total charge falling upon the Police Fund in respect of such allowances, but merely alter its incidence as between one year and another. I think I have briefly, but nevertheless fully, explained what is the real purpose and object of the Bill, and I hope it will prove to be uncontroversial and receive a Second Reading to-night.
§ Mr. DOUGLAS HACKING
I want to say only a few words in connection with this Bill which has been moved by the Under-Secretary. He said, quite accurately, that it was divided into two parts. The proposals contained in Part II involve no expenditure on public funds, and, moreover, they deal merely with the machinery for making payment out of the Metropolitan Police Fund. It does, quite obviously, seem unnecessary that the Commissioner of Police should be called upon to countersign cheques in connection with the fund when, in fact, the financial responsibility is vested solely in the hands of the Receiver. It would clearly be a waste of time for the Commissioner or his deputy to continue to sign cheques when the authority for payment, or the responsibility when anything goes wrong, is not vested in him. I understand from the hon. and learned Gentleman that there is no change of real importance contemplated in Part II, and, therefore, I submit it is not necessary for us to quarrel over that part of the Bill.
Part I of the Bill is rather more important. The hon. and learned Member has told us that a charge on the Police Fund is involved. He pointed out, as is stated in the Financial Memorandum, that there is a Government grant of 50 per cent. towards police expenditure, so that of any expenditure which occurs under Part I of the Bill, half will be borne out of the fund and half by public funds. The charge on the Exchequer, therefore, is one-half the total cost under the pro- 145 vision of the Bill. What is the form of the expenditure? It is quite clearly laid down in the Bill that it enables gratuities to be paid to unestablished employés after they have done a certain length of service. The hon. Member said that there was hardship created to-day, and I understood him to say that the hardship was mainly created among those who are un-established. Surely the hardship is totally in connection with those who are unestablished?
§ Mr. HACKING
I think he said mainly, but it is quite clear from the Bill that the only people who are suffering at present are the unestablished employés. Another reason for these proposals is to allow the commutation of allowances for compensation, but that will not involve any charge at all, it will simply affect the method of making payments at an earlier date. All that sounds very reasonable on the face of it, but it is certainly not an economy. We are told in the Memorandum that the maximum amount which may be granted by way of gratuities in any one year is not likely to exceed £500, of which the public funds would have to pay £250. That may not sound a very large sum, but what I would like to ask is how many cases of hardship have actually arisen over a period of years? It is only on that that we can estimate what the expense will he in future years. The hon. and learned Member has mentioned only one case of hardship, which he gave as an example, but I doubt very much whether there have been many cases in the past. I am doubtful whether this Bill may not in fact deal with other cases where there has not been a great deal of hardship. Obviously, nobody will come under this unless he has had a long period of service, and it would seem that these particular employés, instead of being left as unestablished servants, should, in fact, be established.
Why is it that they are left unestablished, and that the Metropolitan Police should not know that there will be something definite about their employment in future and, therefore, they might be taken on the established staff? After long periods of service it seems strange that they should be still unestablished. How many members of the unestablished staff are there at present? The hon. Member 146 did not tell us that. Is any increase anticipated in the number, or has the limit been reached at present? Have we any guarantee that there will not be an increase in these unestablished employés, and thus be a much greater expenditure from public funds in future than would have been the case in the past had the Bill been the law of the land? In order to ensure that there is no extravagance under the Bill I suggest that the Government should insert a limit of expenditure. That is not an unreasonable demand. Unless there are cases of hardship I do not, think Part I should be allowed to pass. The Bill is drawn to include quite definitely only those cases where there is a real grievance, not cases where there is little or no grievance, and I want to be sure that no other cases will slip in under the Bill. If the Under-Secretary can give us an assurance on these somewhat small points there will be no trouble so far as we are concerned. We certainly should not oppose the Second Reading, although we may desire to amend the Bill in some small details in Committee.
§ Mr. KELLY
I should like to ask why it is necessary at this time for separate accounts to be opened, such as the account for the Lost Property Office. I fail to understand why it is necessary to have these many accounts. In view of the fact that so much of the time of the Commissioners of Police has been taken up in signing cheques, a duty they will not have to undertake in future, I hope the question will be considered as to whether there is justification for having so many Commissioners of Police. Can the Under-Secretary of State say what period of service is necessary for the receipt of a gratuity? Is it to be on the same lines and under the same conditions and covering the same period as gratuities which are now given to those employed in certain other Government Departments? I do not know whether there are in the employ of the Metropolitan Police unestablished employés, but if so I hope the conditions for a gratuity are going to be much easier than those which operate in certain other Government Departments.
§ Mr. SHORT
May I say, in answer to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly), that the account should be opened 147 as near to the place where the work is done as possible. Under the existing law the Lost Property Office has not been able to do this and there has been some considerable inconvenience. In respect to the period of time, the unestablished members of the staff will now be brought into line with the rules and regulations governing the Civil Service. I believe the period of service is somewhere about 10 years. The right hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking) asked whether there would be any increase in the unestablished staff. I do not expect that there will be any increase. His inquiry as to whether it was possible for them to be made members of the Civil Service raises a big question which I am afraid is foreign to the discussion. These matters are largely governed by the rules of the Civil Service. There are times when people have to be brought in and it is quite impossible because of the conditions obtaining to place them upon the establishment.
§ Mr. HACKING
If there is a job to be done, naturally, it can be done by employing someone temporarily and for a short period. But these are all people pf 10 years' service and I want to know why they should not become established.
§ Mr. SHORT
I hardly feel competent to deal with that question at the moment. The matter is largely governed by the conditions of service. Then with regard to expenditure. I do not expect that there will be any great expenditure. During a period of years there has been, on an average, only one case per year of a person who on retirement would have been entitled to this gratuity had he been employed in another department. As they are employed in the Metropolitan Police Office they are not entitled to it. There will be no great increase in expenditure in consequence of the power given in Part I of the Bill.
§ Mr. HACKING
Has the Under-Secretary any idea of the number of unestablished employés? The Bill says it is small, and the Under-Secretary has said that it is very small. Can he give us anything more exact?