HC Deb 21 April 1952 vol 499 cc177-86

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

10.44 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)

An Adjournment debate provides an opportunity for raising the injustices of a small group, and tonight I raise the question of some 4,000 policemen who have been denied parity of conditions and treatment with the rest of the police force for something like the past 40 years. I think it should not be treated lightly because I am dealing with only 4,000 men. An injustice to a small group is as grave as an injustice to a large one.

Might I say that this is by no means a party political issue? The claims I am putting forward, on behalf of these men, have already commanded the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House and, I hope, later in this debate, that an hon. Member from the other side will be taking part. The railways and the docks of this country have always provided for their own protection. When British Transport was nationalised, one of the things it took over was a police force, the British Transport Police. This is the second largest police force in the country, although it is infinitely smaller than the regular, main police body.

In addition to the British Transport Police Force, there also exist two other small police groups, the Docks Police at the Port of London and the Docks Police at Manchester Docks. I hope to show that they have always marched in step with the regular civil police and have already achieved what I seek to achieve on behalf of the British Transport Police. First, I will give a brief history of the campaign of these men for what they regard as justice. In 1922, the Desborough Committee decided in favour of improved conditions for the police force. Unfortunately, the Transport Police were not included in this Committee's terms of reference.

They made representations to their employers, the privately-owned British railways of the time, secured no satisfaction, and, finally, the matter went to an independent Chairman, who made an award to them of wages below those awarded to the regular police force. But this Chairman, Sir Harry Munroe, K.C., in his Report on the award, did say: The Railway Police Forces have established their claim to the status of a police force. He pointed out, as one of the things which impressed him most in the case of these men, that they did have, in the course of their duties, to assume police responsibilities over their fellow workmen in the railways and the docks. In 1938 and 1942, the Transport Police again applied for civil police pay, civil police conditions, and parity with the civil police force. Each time their application was turned down. Then, in 1943, although that complete scheme for parity was not recognised an award did bring them almost within touch of the goal, for which they had been working for some 20 years.

The war was on and it seemed as if the British public, at last, realised these men, who were endangering their lives day-by-day in the protection of our vital, important transport system, were policemen in every sense of the word. Indeed, some two or three years after the war, in 1947, on a further application, and with complete agreement from both sides, the Transport Police did achieve, for the first time in their history, an award which brought them practically on all fours with the civil police.

I understand that the only major difference was that the civil police force got a rent allowance. The Transport Police did not receive this, but got something almost as compensation for it, free privilege travelling. In 1947, the Transport Police had achieved at least parity of treatment with other policemen. Some of the younger men, who have spoken to me, wondered whether that was a moral recognition of a rightful claim or whether it was an attempt to recruit into this vitally important force young men who were to be later shockingly deceived.

In 1948, the Oaksey Committee was appointed to deal with conditions in the police force. I think everyone will agree that that Committee did a great job. Its monumental work and the carrying out of its recommendations by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) stand out as a great act of justice to a great police force by a great Home Secretary. While that Committee was sitting, the Transport Police pressed their claim to be included in the terms of reference. They told me that in the year that Committee was sitting they were asked to hold back their claims pending its report, and they certainly gained the impression—and I have been told this by man after man in this police force—that when the Oaksey award was finally arrived at they would certainly benefit by it.

They were to be deeply disappointed. From 1947 to 1949 they had been equal with the civil police, but the 1949 awards to the civil police created a vast gap once more between the two police forces, a gap which these men have ever since been urging should be narrowed and eventually removed. Every attempt on their part to put forward a claim for parity has been treated by the Railway Executive as an industrial claim for more wages, and their demand for parity—a moral demand as much as a demand for economic improvement—has been brushed aside.

This happened in May, 1950. It happened again in February, 1951. In July, 1951, the Trustram Eve Committee's Report secured further benefits for the civil police and completed the work which the Oaksey Committee had carried out some two years earlier. But when the Transport Police again put forward their claim for parity it was rejected once more. The net result of the awards of the Oaksey Committee and of the Trustram Eve Committee has been an improvement of something like 44 per cent. in pay of the civil police. On the other hand, the rises received by the Transport Police during the same period only amount to something like 16 per cent.

In August last year they made a further application to the Railway Executive. That has been dawdling on ever since, and now, I understand, has been referred by both sides to an arbitrator. The point I want to make is that throughout the negotiations British Transport has consistently refused to recognise the moral claim of these men for parity of treatment with the civil police force.

I am quite certain that many people will be as surprised as I was when I learned, some six months ago, of the disparity which exists between two groups of men whom I am certain everyone in this House and in the country regard as doing the same kind of work. The Transport Police service demands the same high standard of probity and intelligence as the civil police service. For examinations which qualify for promotion these men attend police schools and colleges and take the same Civil Service examinations. By Royal Warrant these men are entitled to the same Police Long Service Medal.

A number of these men have won the King's Police Medal for Gallantry. On the territory which they guard—the docks and ships, the railways and transport—they have all the powers, protection and privileges under which civil police work. They take the same oath of loyalty to Her Majesty before a magistrate when being sworn-in as constables. Assaulting such police officers is exactly as serious an offence as assaulting civil police officers.

It is true that the Transport Police work has certain special features in the protection of railway property, but in the great civil police forces there is also a certain amount of specialised work. These men have power to arrest, power to charge, and power to give evidence in court. They run the same physical dangers as civil policemen. Yet their conditions since 1949 have been allowed to fall drastically below those of the civil police. A Transport policeman gets £65 a year less than a civil policeman when both are constables in their first year. The maximum rate of pay for a Transport Police constable is £5 a year less than the minimum rate for a civil constable.

A police sergeant under British Transport gets £420 a year; but in the civil police £540 a year is the initial salary. The maximum rate for the Transport Police sergeant is £80 a year less than the minimum rate for a civil police sergeant. Yet the Transport Police sergeant includes in his qualifications the same first-class certificate which officers of the civil police force have to hold. The Transport Police inspector of the first class, that is, of the highest grade of Transport Police inspectors, has a maximum salary of only £10 a year more than the civil police sergeant, and that maximum is £1 a week less than the minimum rate paid to his comparative rank in the civil police and nearly £2 a week less than the maximum given to a civil police inspector. A third-class police inspector, qualified by four examinations, and often having attended courses at the police colleges at Wakefield or Hendon, starts at £30 a year less than the maximum of a constable in a civil police force.

I am sure that every fair-minded person will agree that the case of these 4,000 policemen is a just one. In the present circumstances, promising young men are moving to the far more attractive civil police forces. No one can blame them. If these men were not employed by the docks and railways, the State would have to employ other policemen to do the job, and it would have to pay the police rates which exist outside the Transport Police. The railways and transport belong to the people, and the services to the State of the Transport Police are the same as the services of the civil police.

At the end of the war high tributes were paid to the Transport Police force. It was recognised by everyone that they carried out their war-time tasks with the same high sense of purpose and courage which marked the finest traditions of the British police. I speak with the memory of the work of the Transport Policemen in the docks in my constituency, vital work which they performed when the town was being blitzed night after night. I would urge the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the debate to use his influence with the Minister of Transport, and with the Government, to do what I think is an act of justice long overdue to a group of 4,000 men, all on a par with the great British police forces but who have been denied, except for one short period from 1947 to 1949, parity of conditions with their brothers. I hope we shall be told that the Minister will do what he can to help these men.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. A. Hargreaves (Carlisle)

I want to add two or three points to the case which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, West (Dr. King). In the first place, I think it should be said that these men cannot take the usual steps and make representations through a trade union. They have seen the organised workpeople who are engaged in the transport industry derive considerable advantages in recent years through the work of the trade unions and their negotiations with employers.

Secondly, it is of great importance that the British Transport Police are no longer railway police because the nationalisation of the industry has made it necessary for them to undertake duties outside railway premises. Now, the road services, both goods and passenger, fall within their ken. Their work takes them not only into the railways and docks, but into road transport depots and has varied and widened considerably since nationalisation.

My third point is on the question of superannuation. Since the attempt was made to bring this service into parity with the civil police the benefits of the railway superannuation funds have been extended to them but, as the Parliamentary Secretary realises, these men were all late entrants paying heavy deductions on their salaries. Their pensions are on a rather meagre standard. Comparison of the superannuation received by the Transport Police with the benefits given to the civil police makes it clear that they differ very widely indeed.

Police pensioners receiving pensions for a considerable time have two amended Acts of Parliament in their favour and there is a further promise held out to them in the Budget. Their position, therefore, vis-à-vis the Transport Police, will be better still. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies will take note of these three points: the question of the limitation on trade union activity, the extension of work which nationalisation has brought about, and the actual hardship existing in their ranks because they are late entrants into superannuation.

11.3 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Sir Peter Bennett)

We have listened with interest and appreciation to the case put forward by the hon. Gentleman opposite for the Transport Police. I am sure we agree with the testimony paid to the service which these men carried out particularly during the time of the bombing attacks; and have not forgotten it. But I have to state what the position is and to make it quite clear that there has been nothing accidental or casual about the way the question has been dealt with.

The Transport Act of 1947 realised that there would be a problem of this kind and Section 97 dealt with arrangements for settling the hours, pay, and conditions of service of this force. Provision was made and the actual machinery for negotiation came into being as a result of an agreement in April, 1951, between the Railway Executive, the London Transport Executive, the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive and the representatives of the police forces attached to all those Executives.

This agreement covered the inspectors, sergeants and constables of the police forces for the whole of the British Transport Police. A conference in accordance with the terms of the Act was set up to settle the wages and terms of service. Provision was made that in the case of failure to agree at an area level all matters should be referred to this conference, and it further provided, as I shall mention later, for the usual case of appeal. The agreement of April, 1951, provided for the setting up, also, of the British Transport Police Force Federation, which all officers in the police forces concerned, of the rank of inspector, sergeant or constable, are free to join.

So, when the Act of 1947 was passed I think we can agree that people foresaw that there might be problems and set up the machinery to deal with them. The only responsibility which my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour has is that if the conference fails to agree an independent chairman shall be appointed with power to give binding decisions, such chairman to be chosen by mutual agreement or, failing that, to be nominated by the Minister of Labour. That is the legal position. On 30th January of this year a letter was received from the joint secretaries of the British Transport Police Force Conference, to which I have referred, stating that the Conference had met and had failed to agree on the claim by the police side.

The claim was for improved rates of pay and conditions of service for the constables, sergeants and inspectors employed in the police forces controlled by the Commission. This letter asked the Minister, in accordance with the relevant Section of the Transport Act, to nominate an independent chairman for the purpose of dealing with the claim. It should be noted that the Minister does not appoint; he nominates. On 19th February my right hon. and learned Friend wrote to the joint secretaries nominating, as Chairman, Mr. John Cameron, Q.C., Dean of the Faculty of Advocates of Edinburgh. Since then it is understood that the hearings of the claim have taken place and that four days were devoted at the end of March and the beginning of April; so I take it that in that period the case was put forward.

We are informed that the Chairman's award has now been sent to the parties. We have not seen the award and we do not know what is in it. No doubt we shall do so in due course. In any case, I am sure that the House will agree that it would be quite out of order for us to discuss the terms of employment of the Transport Police which have been submitted to arbitration, and when the two sides of the Conference have put forward their cases and the Minister's sole responsibility is to nominate a chairman. The Minister has no responsibility for the terms of employment and that is quite in keeping with the whole policy of Her Majesty's Government, in which matters of this sort are left entirely to be settled between the employers and workers concerned.

Whether the Transport Police get increased rates of pay, or whether they achieve parity with the ordinary police, is not a matter in which the Minister of Labour has any responsibility whatever. All that he can do is to nominate a chairman to hear the case in accordance with the terms of the Act. That he has done, and the Chairman he has appointed is a man in whom he has the fullest confidence. He has a very wide experience in the field of arbitration. The award will be made public in due course, and it is not for me to say whether it will satisfy the contending parties. We have fulfilled entirely the responsibilities placed upon us. I am satisfied that the case the hon. Gentlemen have made will receive publicity, and we trust that the matter will end in satisfaction to all concerned.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

Did I understand the Parliamentary Secretary to say that the findings of the Chairman will be binding on both sides, and that, both parties having pledged themselves to accept the findings, there will be no question of a further course open to either side?

Sir P. Bennett

That is the terms of the agreement under which the conference was set up and the arrangements made.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twelve Minutes past Eleven o'Clock.