HC Deb 20 February 1948 vol 447 cc1523-33
Mr. Ede

I beg to move, in page 3, line 38, at the end, to insert: and also so as to authorise or require the payment of pensions or increased pensions to widows and children of persons dying before the said date (whether before or after the passing of this Act) where the deceased had been a member of a police force and, in the case of a widow, where the marriage was in existence when he ceased (whether on death or otherwise) to be a member thereof. This Amendment embodies the result of the consideration that I have given to representations that were made to me with regard to police widows. Originally, the provision for police widows was better than the provision made for ordinary widows in the country. Therefore, the Police Force was exempted from making contributions under the ordinary scheme. Recent legislation has put the non-police widow into a better position than the police widow. We feel that it is undesirable that that state of affairs should continue.

1.45 p.m.

It is proposed here that we should make regulations to enable police authorities to increase the pensions of police widows and children whose husbands or fathers have died before the appointed day up to the rates of benefit for widows and children of insured persons. It is desired to make it clear that supplementation will be kept closely in step with the benefits of the National Insurance Scheme. We shall normally expect that there will be consultation between police authorities and local officers of the Ministry of National Insurance. There will be power to make some regulation in the case of widows of men who die between 5th July next and 5th July, 1951, during which time the widows would not otherwise get the benefit of their husbands' payments into the National Insurance Scheme.

Generally, it is our idea that the pension that will be payable should be equivalent to that provided under the National Insurance Act but the pension that we pay may in some cases mean bringing up another pension to the minimum of the National Insurance pension. I hope that the House will feel that in taking the wide powers for which I am asking here I have fully met the spirit of the discussion of a fortnight ago.

With regard to the question that was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) about the widow of Constable Edgar whose funeral I attended yesterday, the pension she will receive is one-third of her husband's pay plus one-fifteenth for each of the children up to the time when they pass beyond the benefit age. I am sure I will carry the Committee with me when I say that we all recognise that this man died in the performance of a public duty very nobly performed. I would like to point out in addition that, at the time, this constable was not in uniform. I do not want to say anything that might prejudice proceedings elsewhere, but it was a fate that might have overtaken any one of us who might similarly have attempted to prevent a man from getting away from a scene of attempted crime. I hope that in saying that I have not gone beyond what it is permissible to say. I am sure that the whole Committee will join with me in expressing our deep sympathy with the widow in that fate.

Major Bruce

My right hon. Friend has given us the method of calculation of the pension. Could he give us the figures, the actual amount?

Mr. Ede

It is very difficult to do that. The man was on an incremental scale, and was above the minimum. If I started o give figures I should have to say "about so much." [An HON. MEMBER: "Go on."] am not going to make guesses in a case of this kind. The question of what ought to be done for widows of men who lose their lives on duty really calls for consideration. I want to make it clear that when I talk about the National Insurance standard being set, that does not apply now, and certainly so far as I am concerned, never would apply, to the case of a widow who lost her husband in the circumstances of this case.

Mr. Byers

The right hon. Gentleman said that the widow in this case would get one-third of the pay as pension. In the White Paper there is a scale of 45/60ths for anybody suffering a similar fate, and that seems much more generous than the one-third which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. Is it possible that when the Bill becomes law the pension which is now one-third can be increased to something similar to that which is shown in the White Paper?

Mr. Ede

That is what a man gets if he is disabled. It is not what the widow gets. Sometimes I wonder whether hints that I drop are really understood by hon. Members. I had hoped that, in the references just made, I indicated that this particular type of case was one which I thought deserved consideration.

Mr. Grimston

I am glad that the Home Secretary has been able to put down this Amendment, and from what he says I think the powers which he has taken should be wide enough to cover the various cases. I am a little unhappy about one case which is in no way referred to in the Bill, the case of a man who has been in the Force for some time. I take it that under the proposals, if anything happens to him, either accidentally or in circumstances such as the tragic case the other day, whether he was on or off duty, his widow would, in future, get only the sixth of the annuity because the rest is to be made up from National Insurance. That man has been contributing for a number of years for his widow to get the whole amount and in a case of that kind it would seem to operate unfairly.

I am not at all sure that the revision of pensions, in those sort of cases, should not be looked at with a view to an upward tendency, in spite of the impact of National Insurance. I believe that the intent is that the combination of the two should not be less than the amount of the old pension, but, in such circumstances, if a man is killed in the execution of his duty, it is very likely that he will be a youngish man, and that there will be children to be educated. We do not want to be niggardly in the award of police pensions because of the National Insurance scheme to which every one has to contribute. I hope that, when the regulalations are considered, there will be representation on this point, and that the Home Secretary will look with a very sympathetic eye on the tenor of the remarks I have made with regard to the compensation for widows. I think I am right in saying that, in any case, the powers he has undertaken under this Amendment are wide enough to enable him to do something on the lines which I have suggested.

Mr. Renton

I welcome this Amendment, so far as it goes, but I am surprised and sorry that the Home Secretary has limited himself to this extent. One result of this limitation of powers which he proposes for himself is that it will not he possible for him to provide a pension for a widow, should the marriage take place after the retirement of the police officer, or, in the case of a police officer who marries more than once, where the re-marriage takes place after the retirement of the officer. I am surprised, because in paragraph 52 of the Snell Committee's Report it is recommended that the disqualification to which I have referred should be removed.

It should be borne in mind that many policemen retire at about middle age. They retire very often at a younger age than do other people. It must therefore, happen frequently that they marry after retirement. The case of a re-marriage is one which, I suggest, deserves special consideration, because the policeman has, throughout his career in the Force, been paying contributions for the widowhood of one wife, who unfortunately dies. It seems very unfair on his second wife that she should be debarred from the benefits which the first wife would have enjoyed. I should have thought that there should be a kind of doctrine of succession in this matter, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that. He may recollect that, over two years ago, I put down a Question, and had correspondence about this matter. It is due to the reply of the right hon. Gentleman that I was able to refer just now, when he was out of the Committee, to paragraph 52 of the Report of the Snell Committee.

That Committee referred to the possibility arising, if such a pension were acquired, of what they described as "a death-bed marriage." They also suggested a way of overcoming that possibility. They suggested that if there was a child of the marriage, or if the marriage had taken place at least three years before the death of the retired policeman, then a widow's pension should be payable. I think that the right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind—as has no doubt been pointed out to him by those who made representations in the past—that a widow in this position had no benefit under the National Health Insurance Act. We have also to bear in mind that, for a number of years to come, she will have no benefit under National Insurance either, for the simple reason that she will not become qualified in time to receive benefit.

I ask most seriously that the Home Secretary consider this matter before the Report stage. In view of the very clear and strong recommendation of the Snell Committee I do not think that we should take "No" for an answer on this point without some very clear enlightenment and some strong reason why the Snell Committee's recommendation should not be accepted. Although I shall support this Amendment, because one welcomes it as far as it goes, I should, for those reasons, be glad of some further enlightenment.

Squadron-Leader Sir Gifford Fox (Henley)

I am glad that the Home Secretary has taken these powers under this Amendment. I only hope that they are wide enough. I believe that this question of widows' pensions is the whole difficulty, and the real point of the present grievances in the Police Forces. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will wish to give the widows a fair deal and remove a great many genuine grievances. It will also help to secure the further recruits, so necessary at the present time.

One of the things that deters a policeman, who may be a married man with a large family, is that if anything happens to him, such as happened to the police officer the other day, his wife and children will be left in very great difficulties. As has been mentioned by one hon. Member, his widow and children might be faced with the prospect of having to leave a police house and of finding further accommodation. Policemen have very dangerous duties to perform. Motor patrols chase car bandits at 80 or go miles an hour through the streets of our cities, passing traffic lights, and encountering other dangers. They take a chance every time they go out on duty. I believe that in the future we shall have flying police. I know that that is not a point which arises in discussing the merits of this Bill, but it does illustrate the increased risk which a policeman must take in the course of his ordinary duties.

With regard to the police constable who was brutally murdered the other day, I gathered that the right hon. Gentleman made the point that the man was in plain clothes, and that any of us might be in the same position and have a duty to try and apprehend someone about to commit a breach of the peace. I understood that this officer was attached to the C.I.D., and was acting in the course of his duty, but I gathered from the Home Secretary that that was not so. The point is, however, that any police officer, whether on duty or not, has always the duty to try to apprehend such a person. I hope that the Home Secretary, when he deals with this question of pensions for widows, will do his best to give them a fair deal, and will enable police officers, who are honestly and diligently doing their duty, to feel that, if anything does happen to them, their families will be looked after.

2.0 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

I am very pleased the Home Secretary has taken this power in this Amendment, because, recently, I was speaking to leading officials of the Police Force in my part of the country, and one of the great difficulties confronting them at the present time is how to get the required manpower. They drew attention to the fact that, in most industries, the pay was better and pension schemes were being introduced, apart from the National Insurance Act, and that these things provided attractions which made it very difficult for the police authorities to keep their forces properly staffed. The power that is being taken here by the Home Secretary to provide pensions for widows and children of the police should be of very great advantage in this direction.

In regard to the tragic affair that took place the other day, I know that this is a generous gesture which the Home Secretary has made towards the widow and children, but, in my opinion, it is not generous enough. Unfortunately, we have always been very reluctant to increase pensions and allowances to the dependants of those who die in battle, and that may have its effect in cases of this kind. I think that, where a young man in the prime of life who is doing his duty for the civilian population of this country, meets such a tragic end, something more than one-third of his wages being paid to his widow should be considered by the Home Secretary. I know, of course, that, taking all things into account and what is generally considered suitable in all sorts of other cases, it is a generous gesture by the Home Secretary, but I wish he would give it further consideration. As this particular police constable came from my constituency, I should like to convey my deepest condolences to the widow and family of this young man.

I hope the Home Secretary will give this matter further consideration on general principles, and that the utmost generosity will be shown by the Home Office, so that they may be able to set an example that will encourage the Ministry of Pensions to give greater consideration to this question

The Chairman

I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we cannot go so much into the details of particular cases. I have been waiting for the hon. Gentleman to complete his sentence, which was a rather extended one. Mr. Symonds.

Mr. Symonds (Cambridge)

In view of the wide terms of the Amendment moved by the Home Secretary, one has every hope that, at long last, widows may be adequately provided for. There is only one point which I should like to make. My right hon. Friend said, in the case of widows whose husbands have died in connection with their duties, there might he a particular provision, and he gave a hint that the terms may be very generous. I would like to suggest that the widow of any policeman, whether he dies in the ordinary course of events or as the result of something which happened during the course of his duties, is, in a sense, a special person. The Home Secretary said that the provisions, generally, would be roughly in line with those of the National Insurance Act. I certainly hope that they will not be any less generous and I have every hope that they may, perhaps, be a little more generous.

The wife of a policeman, particularly in the rural areas, has a job to do which is not in any way recognised officially but is definitely there. In fact, I would say that, in the rural areas, a policeman's wife is an unpaid, unofficial assistant policeman. Although the policeman himself is almost always on duty, he is not always available at the particular place where he may be wanted, which is the police station, and his wife, being there, finds herself regularly called upon to do jobs which are, in a sense, those of an assistant policeman. In view of the fact that a policeman's wife is essentially involved with her husband's duties, I hope the fact that she has contributed towards her husband's efficiency will be remembered when the terms of pension are taken into account.

Mr. Stubbs

I want to support the Amendment, which, like the curate's egg, is good in parts. I must confess that I do not know what is meant by the words: where the marriage was in existence when he ceased (whether on death or otherwise) to be a member thereof. Does that mean when he retired or ceased to be a policeman? He cannot be a member of the police after he is dead, and I am not quite clear what this phrase really means, and it seems to me that it is badly drafted. In regard to the pensioner remarrying and again becoming a widow, does she, in that case, receive the pension? If the answer is in the negative, I submit that it will cause hardship on that woman, and that hardship ought to be removed.

In the case of other widows, I think we have gone a long way to remove what I would call a national scandal in the way in which widows have been treated, because of the fact that the husband was a policeman and outside the National Insurance Scheme. As he did not contribute to that scheme, it came down to a miserable pension for the widow of us. 6d., plus 4s. 7d., making a total of 16s. 1d. When we take into account the cost of living in these days, how these people have kept going all this time is a matter for wonder. It is the case that they have often had to seek public assistance or relief from the rates, because no satisfactory arrangement has been made for the widows of police pensioners.

We who are members of watch committees, or, in my case, the Standing Joint Committee of my county, are fully sensitive to the difficulties which are being experienced in keeping police forces up to standard. Both in boroughs and counties, we are very short of police, and recruits are not coming in at the necessary rate to keep both town and country well policed. A lot of crime is arising at the moment out of the fact that police forces are not up to standard, and we have to take note of the fact that one of the causes is the failure of young and suitable men to come forward as recruits to the police forces.

I hope that this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will go a long way towards removing the grievances from which the police force has been suffering for a very long time. I believe it is true to say that policemen are less concerned about their wages than about their conditions of employment. Housing plays a large part in the question of recruitment. Because housing conditions are so bad and the men cannot be properly housed, there is the greatest difficulty in keeping the force up to standard. While I very much welcome this Amendment, I still feel that there is room for improvement.

Mr. Ede

I wish to thank the Committee for the way in which this Amendment has generally been received. I acknowledge, of course, that people will wait until they see the regulations made under it before they express a final opinion. I would like to say to the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) that in future a widow, in the position of the lady to whom we have been referring in this discussion, would, in fact, be rather better off than under the existing law.

I agree with what the hon. and gallant Member for Henley (Sir G. Fox) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs) said about the effect of this grievance of the widows on the state of contentment in the force. It has undoubtedly been a cause of serious discontentment, and I hope that this Amendment, and the regulations I shall make under it, will enable that discontent to be removed. I am also convinced that it is a bad advertisement for the Police Force for it to be known, particularly in a village where everybody's business is known, that a certain impecunious widow is, in fact, the widow of a former police officer. That is the kind of thing that any man, and, particularly, any man's sweetheart or wife, bears in mind when he thinks of joining the Police Force. I hope this Amendment will enable us to remove that cause of discontent, and all that flows from it.

With regard to the point made by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), the Snell Report was of course, written before the National Insurance Scheme had even been considered. Therefore, the present position must be viewed in the light of today, before we star applying that Report, and before we take it into account. I cannot think it would be right to give a man who has left the police force, and who is either single or a widower, the additional attraction in the marriage market of conferring on the lady of his choice—or, as it might more likely be, the lady who chooses him—in addition to her benefits under the National Insurance Scheme, a police pension for having looked after, in his old age, a man who had been a police officer, but who, during the time of her relationship with him—at any rate, relationship under a contract of matrimony—had not been in the police force at all. I cannot think that there is any case for saying that a woman who marries a retired police officer is, by virtue of that fact, entitled to a pension under the police scheme. There might have been something in it in the old days, but, in the future, she will get the benefits of the National Insurance Scheme.

The word "generosity" has been used in this Debate. I am not claiming that anything which is being done here, or which can be done, ought to be described in that way. We will endeavour to have regard to what is the appropriate position of the widow of a man in this important public service, and, in dealing with that, we will also endeavour to be just to the ratepayers and taxpayers who have to find the money. I am quite certain that all people of good will are anxious that the dignity of this great Force should be preserved, and that even the indignity thrown upon it by seeing impecunious widows is a thing which they would desire to see removed. It is in that spirit that I will make the regulations which this Amendment empowers me to make.

Amendment agreed to.

2.15 p.m.

Further Amendments made: In page 3, line 40, leave out "or death."

In line 41, leave out from "retirement," to "occurred," in line 42.

In line 42, after "date," insert: notwithstanding that that person is on the said date, or thereafter becomes, again a member of a police force.

In page 4, line 3, leave out "his case," and insert: the case of the person in question.

In line 9, leave out "or in respect of."

In line 18, after "shall," insert: (subject, in the case of the pensions mentioned in paragraph (c) of this proviso, to the provisions of any regulations made under the Fire Services Act, 1947).".

In line 19, leave out "paragraphs (b), (c) and (d) of."

In line 20, leave out "next succeeding Section," and insert: Sections (Forfeiture of pensions) and (Appeals) of this Act.

In page 5, line 2, leave out from "save," to "the," in line 3, and insert: as provided in."—[Mr. Younger.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.