HC Deb 18 April 1944 vol 399 cc152-4

Order for Second Reading read.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)

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

This Bill looks rather complicated and technical. It deals with a comparatively small number of His Majesty's subjects, that is to say, regular police and firemen who have joined the Fighting Services or who have been directed into industry and who have subsequently, while so serving, encountered disability or death. It may assist the House if I remind them of the main object of the principal Act, which is the Police and Firemen (War Service) Act, 1939, which this Bill amends. It was to confer in respect of men who joined the Armed Forces, and who were injured or killed, benefits similar to those which would have been conferred if they had been injured or killed while serving as police or firemen. I should explain that the police and fire services pensions schemes provide higher scale pensions for men retired or killed as a result of injuries received while on duty as compared with the scales for retirement or death arising through ill-health or other causes, and that the 1939 Act enables police authorities, in cases of war casualties, to increase pensions to the appropriate amount under those higher scales after taking into account any war pension awarded by the Ministry of Pensions.

The principles embodied in the Act have since been extended by Defence Regulation 60DA so as to apply also to police or firemen who have been transferred to civilian war work of national importance. Experience of the working of the Act, which was passed before any police or firemen had gone to the war service, showed that it does not cover certain contingencies to which in equity it ought to apply. This Bill does not, however, modify the principles of the Act of 1939. It has been designed mainly to deal with difficulties which have already arisen and which have prevented police authorities from giving to the men or their widows the generous treatment which they deserve and which the 1939 Act intended that they should receive. We have, naturally, also attempted to deal with any matters which might cause difficulties or produce anomalies in the future as far as these can be foreseen. The number of claims arising from the death or disablement of police or firemen in the Armed Forces has hitherto not been great in relation to the considerable numbers of police and firemen who have been released for war service, but we must anticipate an increase in casualties as our offensive operations progress, and this makes it all the more desirable to clear up now the difficulties and anomalies to which I have referred.

The provisions of the Bill are set out in the explanatory memorandum which goes with it. The more important Clauses, the first three, provide for the payment of the appropriate benefits in cases where death or disablement was due to causes arising prior to the war service. They provide also for the payment of the appropriate pensions to the widow of a man who has less than five years' service, who is at present only entitled to a gratuity. They bring within the scope of the Act cases of men who die or become incapacitated as the result of their war service after rejoining as constables or firemen and they cover the case where death or disability results from an accident whilst on war service and not only, as in the principal Act, men dying from wounds or disease. Clause 2 provides for the necessary evidence to be obtained by the pension authority for making a grant under the principal Act, and there is an important provision in Sub-section (3) for an appeal to a medical referee where the police authority has refused to grant a pension or gratuity on the ground that the man is not prevented by infirmity from rejoining as a constable or fireman. Clause 3 lays down rules for determining the date of death of men who are reported as dead or missing. I do not think that at this stage need go through the remaining Clauses in detail. There may be points which hon. Members wish to put, and, if so, or my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will deal with them either now or on the Committee stage.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for To-morrow.—[Mr. Pym.]