HC Deb 12 April 1945 vol 409 cc2103-12

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Mathers.]

9.20 p.m.

Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)

I wish to raise a matter which has given me considerable anxiety for some time past. I refer to the absence of any adequate or satisfactory machinery for the handling of grievances amongst the Regular Police, the Auxiliary Police and other Defence Services of this country. In the happily altered situation of the war, we may hope, before long, that the other Defence Services will disappear from the picture, but the Regular Police will remain with us permanently, and the Auxiliary Police will remain with us for some years to come.

For a long time past a number of us in this House have been pressing that two or three rights should be given to the Regular and the Auxiliary Police. The first is the elementary right of being free to join their own trade union. The second is the right to have access to adequate and proper conciliation machinery for the amicable discussion of grievances. The third is the right, when conciliation methods fail to produce an agreed settlement, to go to properly constituted arbitration machinery. If I were arguing this case in respect of any other body of workmen in Britain, it would be thought illogical to do so, for, by common consent, the rightful position of trade unions has been recognised. During this war, in particular, we have not merely asked but we have imposed upon the Minister of Labour the responsibility of dealing with wages and other disputes in order to avoid strikes, and the duty imposed upon him is the duty either of compelling the employer to establish adequate conciliation machinery, or of referring a dispute to a National Wages Tribunal set up by the Government of this country. In regard to the police we deny them all three. They are denied, under the Police Act of 1919, the right to belong to a union; they have no conciliation machinery except the Home Office patronised Police Federation, whose primary function appears to be to advance claims every six months, to which the Home Office says "No" six months later, and they are denied access to arbitration machinery where conciliation fails to produce the desired result. I have had just as much support from Conservative Members on this issue as I have had from hon. Members on the Labour side; in fact, there is a general recognition that this is a general duty on us all. Other hon. Members and I have been trying to obtain these three rights, or the reason why they have not been given. We have been given not merely no adequate reason but no reason at all.

When I raised this matter the other day the Home Secretary, with astonishing irrelevance, said it had been decided to give the police an increase in pay. That is not the point. A claim for the establishment of conciliation and arbitration machinery is not answered by doling out half a crown. That is dodging the issue. We have had no answer except a little "smart-Alecism" and one or two wisecracks, which I do not want to receive from the Home Secretary this evening because if I do I shall be moved to great wrath. No reason whatever has been given for the refusal of these elementary rights except that one cannot have trade unions, conciliation machinery and arbitration machinery in a disciplined service. There is in the operations of the Home Office a mental muzziness which has been a considerable source of distress to me, and I do not think it has even analysed the word "discipline." There can be no service, from domestic service to divine service, which is not disciplined. The railway service is a disciplined service. If it were not, the railways would not run to time. The Civil Service is a disciplined service; domestic service is disciplined and the Parliamentary Private Secretaryship is a disciplined service. There is no service Which is not, in fact, a disciplined service. What the Home Office means when it says the police service is a disciplined service is not that it is a disciplined service, but that it is a quasi-military service. If that is what the Home Office means, this is the answer: the more military or quasi-military a service becomes, the more essential it is that there should be adequate safeguards against injustice within it. That is the answer to the suggestion that we cannot give these rights because the police is a disciplined service. I cannot go into the question of the pay of the police to-night; I have enough material already to keep me going for some time. Among other reasons, I do not think this House is the best qualified body to make a meticulous examination of wage claims on behalf of various sections of the public service, but it is the body which has the duty and the power to insist that there shall be proper machinery for dealing with those claims in an organised way.

What is the situation among the police? Do not let us make any bones about it, and the House will forgive me if I use plain language. There is widespread discontent from one end of Britain to the other in the police service. This discontent centres on three things: First, individual acts of injustice by those higher up against which there is no adequate means of redress; secondly, an astonishingly inadequate standard of wages and increases in wages in comparison with the general rises which have taken place in Britain; and, thirdly, a mounting resentment at the fact that the police are treated as having less natural rights than other sections of the working class in Britain. Serious trouble is coming.

On the whole, I am a man of peace, and I am making this appeal not because I want to see it but because I know it is coming. In Edinburgh last week the police held a mass meeting. In, London the police have just formulated a new wages scheme. In every area in Britain there is bitter feeling amongst the police, because of the handling of cases against which there is no appeal, and Miss Wilkinson should know it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I did not know that I was out of Order. That ejaculation "Order" is, to some extent, a reflection on the mind of the House. The prohibition of mentioning a name dates back to the Long Parliament when we were afraid that the King might hear what we were saying. We have passed that time, and there is no reason why the whole world should not hear what we are saying. We are heading straight for grave and serious trouble. If there is another strike, the Home Secretary will rush to concede what I am demanding. I ask him to concede it to justice rather than to force, as he will concede it sooner or later. It is wrong that anybody should be denied these elementary rights for which I am appealing to-night. Most of all is it wrong that we, who are a democracy, should deny those rights to a public service.

What disturbs me is that I have known a large number of Home Secretaries for over 30 years—in fact, I am practically an authority on Home Secretaries—and it pains me that we should be having this difficulty from the present Home Secretary. The present Home Secretary is a Labour man and, of all the Cabinet Ministers I can think of, the last Cabinet Minister to deny these elementary trade union labour rights should be a Labour Home Secretary. It is true that the present Home Secretary has not quite the same trade union background as others of us in this House, including myself. But he has something which ought to compensate for that. The Home Secretary is himself the son of a "copper." To me it is a tragedy that a working class representative, the son of a policeman, elevated to the very high position of Home Secretary, should be the Minister who is to-day denying to his father's old colleagues in the police service, the rights which the trade union movement in this country, including the right hon. Lady opposite, has pressed for, for the last 30 or 40 years. It is an incredible position which ought not to be allowed to go on.

It is a serious case which I am putting, and I want a serious reply. There is widespread discontent. It is justified discontent; it is discontent that is getting worse, it is discontent that will, sooner or later, break; and it is discontent which the Home Office deserves should break, if they do not deal with the situation now. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, in the absence of the Minister, to deal with this case. I do not want any wisecracks.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

The hon. Member does not object to wisecracks about other people?

Mr. Brown

I do not quite follow the point.

Mr. E. Walkden

The hon. Member is objecting to wisecracks directed at himself, hut he makes wisecracks himself about others.

Mr. Brown

I am not making wisecracks; I am making a downright, forthright attack. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

Hon. Members will please address their remarks to the Chair.

Mr. Brown

Is it denied that these claims have been rejected by the Home Secretary? Is it denied that the Home Secretary is the son of a policeman? Is it denied that he is a Labour Minister? Is it denied that the Labour movement has stood for these rights of proper conciliation and arbitration machinery?

Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)

I certainly deny the hon. Member's statement that there is no machinery.

Mr. Brown

I did not say that at all. I cannot help it if the hon. Gentleman, in addition to being inattentive, is also deaf. I said there was no adequate machinery, and that the only machinery was the machinery of the Police Federation which, for all practical purposes, is in the hands and pockets of the Home Secretary. I want a reasonable answer to this case, because the Parliamentary Secretary has to answer to-night not me but something like 100,000 policemen in this country, who have the right to look to this House for better treatment than they have been getting, and, above all, for the elementary rights for which I am asking to-night.

9.33 P.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security (Miss Wilkinson)

The hon. Member in making his case has demanded that we should not have any wisecracks, and I do not propose to give him any. But I hope he will forgive me if I remind him that rudeness is not argument, and neither are strings of statements made from a highly partisan point of view. They would be more excusable from someone who did not know the history of the police as well as the hon. Gentleman. Let me assure him that the Home Secretary and myself—I do not think he would deny that my trade union record is quite as good as his—have approached this question with seriousness and with the full appreciation of the advantages of arbitration. There are certain other important considerations which have to be borne in mind. I am not suggesting that they are arguments against arbitration, nor am I putting them forward as such, but I wish the House to understand that there is another side to the case besides the string of somewhat heated statements made by the hon. Member.

Taking the case of the police, arbitration is not just as simple as it is in the case, say, of the railway company to which the hon. Member referred. The police are organised in local forces and paid by the local funds, but they are, in law, officers of the Crown. At the same time, their rates and conditions of service are standardised by regulations made by the Home Office in England and Wales and by the Secretary of State for Scotland in Scotland. To add to the picture of a system which goes deep into our history, and which is none of thks, present Home Secretary's making, half of the cost of approved expenditure on the police is paid by the Exchequer. This raises the question of whether arbitration is to be between the local police authority and the local police or between the Home Office, or the Scottish Office in the case of Scotland, and the police service as a whole. If arbitration were permitted to the police authorities the responsibility for securing proper conditions of service for the police would be removed from the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the result would simply be a return to the bad old system that was condemned by the Desborough Report when the wages varied all over the country.

Mr. Brown

It is something like the case of the teachers and local government.

Miss Wilkinson

I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman and I have exactly ten minutes in which to reply. If, on the other hand, the arbitration is between the Home Office and the police service, are the interests of the local authorities to be ignored?

Mr. Brown

Is that question addressed to me? If so, I will deal with it.

Miss Wilkinson

Does the hon. Gentleman want me to reply to him or does he merely want a dialogue? If he wants a dialogue and a series of cross wisecracks I will join in the competition, but he asked for a serious statement. If he wants a serious statement, he will get it and he had better stay quiet. If the hon. Gentleman does not want to be addressed, I will address my remarks to the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden), through the Chair. The hon. Gentleman has thrown great scorn upon the use of the word "disciplined service." In this connection, as in the case of the Armed Forces, disciplined service is a technical term. We all understand what that means. The police are not subject to industrial conditions. Their hours of work must depend upon the contingencies of their service. Recourse to arbitration in the matter of hours might therefore have serious effects on the service. By reason of the special conditions of the Police Act and the necessity of securing their independence and impartiality in maintaining public order, Parliament, by the Police Act, 1919, set up special machinery, to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) alluded, in the shape of the Police Federations and the Police Councils, which comprise representatives of police authorities, chief constables and the Police Federation for dealing with their conditions of service.

The introduction of arbitration, therefore, would entail a substantial modification of the machinery which has operated since 1919. I am not saying that might not be a bad thing or that it ought not to come, but I would point out that arbitration would not necessarily be a one-way traffic. If the police services are to be allowed arbitration, it must also be open to the police authorities and to local authorities and the Government to refer matters in dispute to arbitration. It is not by any means clear that arbitration would be in the interests of the police. I would remind the hon. Gentleman, through you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that, far from there being widespread discontent on the question of arbitration to which the hon. Gentleman alluded, it is believed that there is far from being a unanimous demand for arbitration in the police service itself.

But, as I say, this does not rule out entirely the question of arbitration, nor has the present Home Secretary suggested that it should. What I have said is that the matter is not one which they are prepared to consider in war-time. The English Police Federation have accordingly been informed that arbitration cannot be conceded to them now, but that it is open to them, if they so desire, after having weighed the advantages and the disadvantages—and there is quite de- finitely much to be said on both sides—to raise the matter again after the war. After all, we hope that that will not mean a very long delay, but, of course, the present Home Secretary cannot possibly pledge his successor in this matter any more than his predecessor could pledge him. The matter would therefore have to be opened up again after the war and the whole question thoroughly investigated. Now that the conditions of the Auxiliary Police have been assimilated to those of the Regulars, the same consideration must clearly apply to them. They are now all one Force, and it would obviously be impossible to allow arbitration for the Auxiliaries and to refuse it to the Regular Police. In this case, the Auxiliary Police Association have also been informed.

Since the matter was last discussed in the House, the Government have decided to review the pay of the Regular Police and, as the Home Secretary stated in the House on 29th March, a new and improved scale of pay for the Regular Police came into force on 1st April. These new scales of pay for the Regular Police were framed in consultation with the Police Council. They were accepted by all the interests represented on the English Council, including the English Police Federation, and by the great majority of the members of the Scottish Council, and represent a substantial financial benefit. I have no doubt whatever that they would have liked better terms than they obtained. I have never been engaged in an arbitration or a wage negotiation myself when I would not have liked more than I received; but they did not press their claims to the extent of even registering disagreement and, so far as the Auxiliary Police are concerned, the scheme of assimilation has been fully discussed with the Auxiliary Police Association, who are in agreement with it. After all, you have to arbitrate about something. There is no particular point in having arbitration merely for the fun of saying you are going to have it—if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so.

Mr. Brown

I cannot stop the right hon. Lady.

Miss Wilkinson

No, there are two of us. So it will be seen, therefore, that the main outstanding issues, pay and assimilation, have been settled through the existing machinery to the satisfaction of the people concerned.

Mr. Brown indicated dissent.

Miss Wilkinson

Well, they have not registered disagreement, and I presume they know their own minds as well as the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown). As already pointed out, it will be open to the Police Federation to raise the question of arbitration again if they decide on further consideration that the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages after the war. However, there has been a still further difficulty, that during the war the Civil Defence Services and the Police Services have marched together and there has been a good deal of discussion with the associations concerned about the difficulties that must inevitably arise. Really, the police have been extraordinarily sensible about the position. We have had to ask them to do a great deal. We have had to ask them to accept their heavy burden as we have had to ask citizens of all classes and all trades and occupations. Things have not been easy for any of us. They have not been easy for the police. During his time at the Home Office the Home Secretary has met the police representatives whenever they wanted to meet him. The door of the leading civil servants who deal with them has always been open to them, and they have tried to work together to deal with their many difficult problems. All I can say is that as far as we can see, the war is not likely to last very much longer and after that the whole question can be discussed de novo.

Mr. E. Walkden (Doncaster)

There is one minute more. May I assure the right hon. Lady that despite the aggressiveness of the advocate of this case, and the sincerity and earnestness of the statement she has delivered to the House, some of us would like an opportunity again to raise this issue at an early date? There is grave dissatisfaction with the structure and the way the machinery works, and we believe there is still a good case for the policemen of Britain. We would like longer time to discuss it with the Home Secretary, and we hope, therefore, that the opportunitiy may not be long delayed.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at a Quarter to Ten o'Clock.