§ 11.9 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)
I beg to move,That the Draft Police Pensions Regulations, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th November, be approved.These are rather complicated Regulations and it may be of assistance if I outline the principal changes which they bring about. Then, if hon. Members have specific points they wish to raise, I will do my best to answer them.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
On a point of order. As a Member of the Statutory Instruments Committee, am I in order in calling,, attention to what took place with regard to these Regulations at the meeting of the Committee last night, or has the Minister been made aware of what happened?
§ Mr. Speaker
Normally, one cannot take notice of what a Committee does until it reports. Perhaps the Minister can cover the point.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I think I can answer the kind of point the hon. Member has in mind. I have not seen the report, which, so far as I know, is not available. But I have heard rumours of what is likely to be in it, and I think I can answer specific points put to me.
There are two aspects of these Regulations in which hon. Members are interested. There is the question of the intention and effect of the Regulations and the question of the form and manner of the presentation of them. May I say something about the idea and effect of the Regulations? The primary purpose 399 is to provide increased pensions and allowances for the dependants of certain deceased police officers similar to the increases which have been authorised by the Family Allowances and National Insurance Act, 1952, and the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1952.
The Regulations are made under powers conferred on the Home Secretary by the Police Pensions Act, 1948, and also by the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1952. It is the latter Act which enables payments to be made under these Regulations with effect from 1st October last instead of from the coming into operation of the Regulations. Therefore, the Regulations give the greatest measure of retrospection possible under the circumstances. In accordance with the Police Pensions Act my right hon. and learned Friend has consulted the Police Council and that body has expressed itself as being in agreement with the Regulations. As that body speaks for the Police and the Police Authorities I think it can be accepted that they are in agreement with these proposals.
The Pensions (Increase) Act provided for flat rate increases in the various types of public service pensions, the amount of the increase tapering off for pensions beginning after 1st April, 1948, until no increase is given for pensions starting after 1st April, 1952. The principle of that Act was to give an increase of pension in respect of a period during which there was a fall in the value of money and a general increase in wages and salaries. Most public service pensions are determined by the final rate of pay of the pensioner, or the pensioner's husband as the case may be.
That is not so in the case of the pensions to police widows, that is, not generally so. There is one class of pension, the special pension awarded in the case of widows of police officers who lost their lives in the execution of their duty, where the pension is assessed on the basis of the police officer's rate of pay. In that case the widow is dealt with under these Regulations as she would have been under the Pensions (Increase) Act.
But special provision is necessary in the case of other police widows, because of the flat rate basis upon which they receive their pensions. Provision to this end has now been made in the Regula- 400 tions, and the general effect is that police widows' pensions and children's allowances will attract the same increase, usually one-third of the existing pension, as if the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1952, had applied directly to them, subject, however, to the following qualifications.
First, there is no tapering off of increase in the case of flat rate awards granted during the period 1st April, 1948, to 4th July, 1948. Secondly, a special measure of increase, on conditions similar to those laid down in the Pensions (Increase) Act, is given in the case of police widows awarded flat rate pensions between 4th July, 1948, and 6th April, 1949, who have hitherto been in a somewhat anomalous position. This anomaly arose because following the recommendation of the Oaksey Committee, in 1949, flat rate widows' pensions were increased to 19s. 2d., 23s., or 26s. 10d. a week according to the husband's rank, but only when the husband died after 6th April, 1949, which was the date of the report.
The Home Secretary came to the conclusion that there were not sufficient grounds for continuing any significant distinction between the widows whose husbands died between 4th July, 1948, and 6th April, 1949, and those who died on or after the later date. He therefore proposes this special increase which will have the broad effect of putting all those police widows who have been awarded flat rate pensions on or after 5th July, 1948. on the same level of benefit.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devon-port)
These are complicated matters, but when the hon. Gentleman says that there is no significant distinction left are the rates now exactly the same for all these categories of police widows?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Speaking off-hand, for all categories of police widows since 5th July, 1948, the basis is exactly the same. I cannot think of any exception, subject, of course, to the case of the special pensions in the few special cases I have mentioned.
There is, of course, a special difficulty in this connection. That arises by reason of the fact that up to 5th July, 1948, police officers were excepted from State insurance. They were brought in by the National Insurance Act to State insurance on 5th July, 1948, together with a large number of other people. Under 401 the National Insurance Act, however, a qualifying period of three years was required before a widow of a policeman could obtain a national insurance pension.
The Oaksey Committee considered this point, and they thought that the qualifying period was particularly hard in this special case. For that special reason they recommended that special supplementary pensions should be paid from the Police Fund, equal in amount to the National Insurance widows' pensions which they would have received but for the fact that their husbands died before they had paid the necessary number of contributions.
It is important to notice that the recommendation of the Oaksey Committee was applicable to the widows of contributors and the Committee recommended that the qualifying period in their case should be waived. There was a special reason applicable peculiarly to the police why they had suffered hardship because of the existence of that qualifying period.
It was suggested to the Oaksey Committee that all pre-1948 widows should be brought up to equality with post-1948 widows and I should like to refer to paragraph 145 of the Report of the Committee. When they considered this matter they said:Several witnesses, including the representatives of men now serving, have drawn our attention to the position of widows whose husbands died before 5th July, 1948. They have left us in no doubt that in a number of cases the existing pension does not enable the widow to enjoy a standard of living in any way comparable with that to which she was accustomed when her husband was serving.Police widows are not, however, in general worse off in this respect than widows of men in many other occupations and for this reason we do not think we are justified in dealing with the claims which have been made on their behalf. If any of the hardships which have been brought to our notice are found to be peculiar to the police service we hope that they will be dealt with in the light of our recommendations.For these reasons the Oaksey Committee did not recommend bringing the pre-1948 widows into line with the post-1948 widows.
Further representations have been made to my right hon. and learned Friend, and I can assure the House that he has given the most careful and sympathetic consideration to them. He has, however, felt himself bound to come to 402 the conclusion, for the same reasons that the Oaksey Committee found, that there are not grounds for bringing the pre-1948 widows into line with those who came into the scheme afterwards.
I have dealt with the broad proposals comprised in these Regulations. I have not dealt with the special cases of the widows of policemen who may be murdered in the course of their duty. I have not done so partly because it is only a matter of days since this question was discussed in the House and I then gave an assurance that the matter would be considered. Perhaps I might say that that assurance has been kept and that very active consideration of this question is now taking place. There is no question of that aspect having been overlooked. I mention it at this stage merely to assure the House that that is so.
I wish to comment on the manner of presentation of these Regulations. It has been suggested that the footnotes to the Regulations are inadequate for the purpose that they are intended to serve. It is true that in Regulation 1 there is a reference to paragraph (3) of Regulation 10; but in Regulation 10 of the Police Pensions Regulations, 1949, there is no paragraph (3). It is necessary to ascertain that that paragraph has been amended by an intervening Regulation. That is a fair point to take. It would be possible to put in footnotes to indicate all these various amendments.
If footnotes were provided, the result might well be more confusing than when they are omitted. We might reach a point at which there were more footnotes than Regulations, which I do not think would be helpful, but if the House feels that very full footnotes are desirable, then the request will certainly be noted for future use. It is only a question of what is convenient for the House, and if hon. Members express their views, those views will be taken into account for the future.
It has been suggested that the time is ripe for consolidation—that there should be a consolidated set of Regulations. That is certainly desirable, but there is a special difficulty in this case. Section 3 of the Act is somewhat peculiar, for, under it, Regulations may be made which are applicable to future pensioners —both police officers and their widows—and they may also be made applicable 403 to the widows of deceased or retired police officers; but they may not be made in the case of existing police officer pensioners. Thus, if any attempt were made under the existing law to provide consolidated Regulations, it could be only a partial attempt; and the result would be extremely confusing.
It may be suggested that the law should be amended, but I understand that the result achieved was not wholly accidental. If hon. Members feel that an Amendment should be made, that view will be considered, but there are difficulties and, on the whole, I am not certain that more use would be derived from consolidation than from the way in which the matter has been dealt with here.
I have tried to outline the intention of the Regulations to the House and to explain why they are in this form. I think the House generally will welcome them, and I ask that they should be approved.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The House is indebted to the Under-Secretary of State for the care and detail with which he has explained these very complicated Regulations. I know from past experience that it is difficult to make them sound interesting, and in some instances the applications also make it difficult for the Regulations to be made even intelligible; and we thank the hon. Member for the way in which he has tried to place them before us.
We are, however, in this difficulty. If we rejected these Regulations, the first effect would be that beneficiaries under them would have their benefits postponed. It is not possible to make their benefits retrospective, so that anything we did tonight in the way of rejecting these Regulations to get better ones would mean that a certain number of people, none of whom is well blessed with this world's goods, would be denied a small Christmas box. I am sure that no one desires to see that happen. I am, therefore, sure that the House will approve the benefits which the Regulations confer.
I regret that it was not possible for the hon. Gentleman to make a pronouncement about the case of the widows of officers murdered on duty. This is a matter which, the Home Secretary 404 knows, concerned me very much before I left the Home Office, and I know it causes him equal concern, and today, of all days, it must be very prominently in our minds. I therefore hope that if there is any representative of the Treasury here other than the Patronage Secretary to convey the views of the House to the Chancellor—[Interruption.] I am quite sure I am speaking for every Member of the House when I say that we sincerely hope that it may be possible for an arrangement to be made to deal with the particular cases, and I have no doubt that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will continue to press the Chancellor very hard on these matters.
The matter of dealing with police pensions is in Order and in Regulation, and is very difficult because of the long memories of the police. After all, the police are trained to have long memories. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, when he has been cross-examining a police officer in days gone by, has had to suggest that it is very difficult for a man to remember six months afterwards exactly what happened, and what he said to the accused, and what the accused said to him. The effect of police training is, of course, carried over from their public duties into their private interests, and they were very concerned, when we were passing the 1948 Act, that nothing should be done—because they remembered something that happened a very long time ago—that would ever place any police officer in jeopardy so far as that individual was concerned.
So, we have the astonishing position that the hon. Gentleman revealed to us towards the end of his remarks. Now we hope, in view of the altered relationships between the Police Federation and the Home Office, and the Scottish Office, so far as Scotland is concerned, that we could come to an understanding on both sides by which what the police contend for could be preserved, and, at the same time, that the reasonable flexibility that will make these Regulations intelligible to the ordinary policeman and his wife may be achieved, because what we have been told tonight really illustrates the difficulty.
Fancy an ordinary policeman's widow trying to find out from these Regulations exactly what she is entitled to, and then finding that all depends upon her being able to get and collate all the documents 405 mentioned in footnote (c) of the document with the principal Regulations and the Act. It is, of course, quite beyond any such person's abilities, and it must also impose very considerable difficulties on the officers of the Federation when they try to work out for the member of the Federation exactly what the member or the widow of the member is entitled to.
I went through this very carefully, and there appear to be 12 instances in which, if one looks in the principal Order for the exact detail that is referred to in these Regulations, it is not in the principal Order; it is in one of the amending Orders. I will just take only one, because there is no point in going through all 12. I think it is the one to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. I may, perhaps, just state it in a little more detail. In the new Regulation, Part 1, paragraph 1, October is substituted for January in paragraph (3) of Regulation 10 of the Police Pensions Regulations. If one reads Regulation 10 of the principal Regulations, one finds that the word "January" does not occur, and that the Regulation has no paragraph (3). Then a person has to try to find which of these amending Orders which are set out in footnote (c) will provide the answer about what this new Regulation 1 means.
It must be in the interest of members of the Police Force, as well as of hon. Members to have Regulations which bear, on the face of them, all the information which is necessary for anyone who wants to know to what he is entitled. I want to make clear that it is no fault of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, or his Under-Secretary, that the House and the Police Force are faced with this difficulty. If the Financial Secretary to the Treasury were here I could point to an eloquent speech which he made, when the 1948 Act was going through, which helped to land us in the difficulty which confronts us tonight.
I would appeal to the members of the Police Council and the Police Federation to agree to something which will preserve what they want to have preserved and will, at the same time, enable the House, the police authorities and the members of the Police Force to know exactly to what they are entitled under these Acts. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that 406 present policemen, and ex-policemen enjoying a pension, should always be assured that they will retain that pension no matter what alterations we make in the law. It may possibly be that they might get a little more under a future amendment, but they ought to be assured that they will not suffer loss. If it could go forth from this House that that position is agreed, I would hope that we would be able to get Regulations presented to this House which on the face of them, are intelligible.
There is one class of policeman's widow to which I would like to refer. I know the answer which will be given tonight; but some of the earliest police pensioners' widows are, like the widows of other public servants of about the same time, in parlous circumstances. They are a small and diminishing body. I doubt whether in a decade there will be any left. It sometimes makes one feel a little mean—and I felt this when I was Home Secretary as well as when sitting on this side of the House—when one sees some of these people whose husbands were never well paid, and who would never have thought it possible for policemen to get the wages they are getting today, even allowing for the altered value of money. These widows have never had an easy time, and are now in extreme penury.
I do not intend to go in detail through the various benefits conferred by these Regulations. If the Police Council and the Police Federation have agreed to them I do not think it is reasonable that we should subject them to any great scrutiny. I hope that, on the lines I have indicated, it may be possible to arrive at an arrangement which will enable our future discussions on Regulations such as these to be conducted in a way in which it will be quite easy to see, on the face of the Regulations, what we are doing.
§ 11.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)
I do not want to detain the House for very long at this time of night, but for a few moments I want to emphasise a point made by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), which was touched on by the Under-Secretary, namely, that one would have hoped that today, particularly, the opportunity would have been taken by the Government to make a 407 statement about the position of the widows of police officers killed on duty.
As the Home Secretary knows, I have raised this matter before. I must say that he is giving very sympathetic consideration to it; and from what the Under-Secretary said a few moments ago I understand that it is receiving very active consideration. Nevertheless, I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend will forgive me when I say that it is a matter of some urgency. We do not want this delayed for weeks on end. We are most anxious to get a decision at an early date. I have a Question down about it this week, and I hoped that the matter could have been touched on tonight and something definite said.
I cannot see why the discussions need take so long, and I am sure I am not wrong in requesting that the most earnest consideration be given to this subject. On the previous occasion upon which this issue was discussed sympathy was expressed from all parts of the House, and I am sure that sympathy is shared by the people in the country. I am convinced that if the Government could take an early decision it would be welcomed. The police authorities, in principle, support the Regulations being brought forward tonight, but I would observe that at a time when the Metropolitan Police force is 30 per cent. below strength the question of pensions is of serious concern to those who may become police officers in future. All the discussions I have had with those who are either in the Police Force or are considering joining show that they are deeply concerned about the pension to be awarded in the event of certain tragic happenings.
I had, therefore, hoped that the Regulations could have been a bit more generous. Perhaps that is something which may come later. I urge upon the Government that, if they could take a more generous view of pensions for the police and the dependants of police, it would encourage recruiting tremendously. It would be money very well spent, because the police are much under strength, particularly in the Metropolitan area. This is a time when the Government might well respond, and I hope something can be done about it.
These Regulations are extremely complicated for policemen who wish to know 408 where they stand in these matters, and they would welcome something simpler if it could be produced later. Having said that, I wish to thank the Government for bringing forward these Regulations tonight, and I hope they will be able to consider the points I have made, particularly with regard to the most urgent decision on the case of the dependants of police officers killed on duty.
§ 11.44 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
I make my first point with some difficulty because I am a Member of the Statutory Instruments Committee, which, I understand, has not yet reported to the House after its meeting last night. Perhaps I might take refuge in the debate which took place in another place on this set of Regulations, and say that, even, there, the drafting of these Regulations was severely criticised.
All of us are in the difficulty of not wishing to hold up these Regulations by opposing them on the ground that they do not say what they mean. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) pointed out, quite a number of references in these Regulations have no meaning in the form in which they appear, and only the good will of those who interpret them and of those who read the debate which has taken place tonight can give the Regulations the meaning the Home Secretary seeks to place upon them.
If we are to have references in Regulations to other Regulations, then such references should be made to Regulations in their latest amended form. The Regulations with which we are dealing tonight have been so amended in the last few years that it is time they were consolidated and some clarity given to them.
But the main point I wish to make arises out of the fact that these Regulations still leave an anomaly as between one police officer's widow and another. How great is that anomaly is shown by the simple figures of pensions paid at present to the widows of policemen and police sergeants. If their husbands happened to die before 7th April, 1948, they receive 30s. a week, if before 4th April, 1949, 41s. 6d., and if, conveniently, they died after that date, 49s. 2d. a week. There is a discrepancy of 19s. 2d. a week between those groups.
409 I am very happy to know that the Home Secretary, in raising the police widows' pensions, has eliminated the middle class of anomalies, but he still leaves the very small group of widows of older police officers of this country suffering what I believe to be a very serious injustice. During the past two or three years we have been trying to put right the wrongs and economic hardships which numerous groups of pensioners suffer owing to the fact that though their pensions might have been adequate at the time they were granted, based on wages or salaries of five or ten years ago, they are now no longer adequate owing to the rise that has taken place in the cost of living since that time. But certain groups remain, and some police widows are among them.
I hope it is not too late for the Home Secretary to change his mind, and that he will do justice to a group of widows of men who served their country well in a service for which the whole of this House has a tremendous affection.
§ 11.49 p.m.
§ Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I want to add my plea to what has already been said by several hon. Members about the position of the pre-1948 widows of members of the Police Force. To begin with, I think it is a most extraordinary thing that there is no representative of the Treasury present. But I am not at all surprised, because, of course, I am fairly sure that both the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary are in favour of doing something for the classes of widows who have been mentioned this evening, and that the only reason why we have not had more generous treatment is because my right hon. and learned Friend has not been able to get agreement with the Treasury. Of course, it would be extremely embarrassing for the Financial Secretary to be here.
§ Miss Ward
I am very glad he has arrived, because it is a most iniquitous thing that this particular class of widows should have been left out of these new arrangements.
Not so long ago I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to appoint a committee to look into this kind of case. When he had to answer me at the 410 Despatch Box he said that although he would not commit himself to setting up a committee he had the greatest sympathy with the cases that were put forward. I want to make it plain that sympathy is not enough. We owe a very great debt to this class of the community, which is continually being overlooked. My view is that the Treasury, in their isolation, have no idea of the hardships that this type of people are up against. I am sure that the Home Secretary, coming from a very distinguished constituency in Liverpool, knows the facts only too well.
I am very sorry that the Treasury have not seen their way to do justice to this section of the community and I add my plea to those that have been made for the widows of policemen who were killed on duty. Two years ago—at any rate, it was the time when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was Home Secretary—I raised in the House the specific case of a policeman who had been killed on duty, somewhere in Yorkshire. At that time, I was told that the matter was to be looked at. It is intolerable that it should have taken years to discuss this very simple matter. I can only assume that that is because the Home Secretary, in both the old Government and in this Government have been putting up a gallant fight against the Treasury.
It is wrong that these important issues should have to be discussed at this time of night, when we cannot have the Chancellor of the Exchequer here or ask for an answer from the Financial Secretary. We have just to take the opportunity of expressing our deep regret that these two specific classes of people have not been dealt with. I hope that what has been said tonight will be reported to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, expressing to him the disapproval of the House at the arrangements for this most defenceless class of the population.
§ 11.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devon-port)
Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with what the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward) has said about the Treasury. I remember that when some such remarks were made from this side that they seemed to arouse strong feelings. I believe that that is the case with the 411 present Regulations. Everyone is agreed on two propositions in regard to them we welcome their introduction, and the increase that is being given to the police under them. There is a strong case for even greater increases, since it is a most sensible way of dealing with the crime wave. It is much better than many other proposals that have been made elsewhere.
We are all horrified at the shocking complication of these Regulations, but there is one virtue which may be extracted from these complications, that is, that it does strengthen the case which has been made from both sides for dealing simply and drastically with this question of the pre-July, 1948, rates. If the Regulations are so complicated that practically nobody in the House can understand them, and, if they are so complicated that it is almost impossible for any members of the Police Force to understand them, it follows all these other categories which might be affected if the Home Secretary did change the Regulations, would not be able to understand them either.
Therefore, he is not going to land himself into any great difficulties if, at this hour of night, he slips through the agreement to make this change. No one would be able to notice it outside the Police Force, and, if he noticed it, he would not be able to track it down anyhow. I do not think that this, the first of the Home Secretary's reasons for rejecting an attempt to assimilate all these widows' pensions, is a valid one.
I should like to try to discover exactly what is the position. I particularly wish to do so in view of what was said by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King). I am sure that his knowledge and understanding of the Regulations is better than mine, but, certainly, the information I have received differs somewhat from his. What is the effect of these Regulations? The Under-Secretary said that whereas they affected all three categories before, this was now being reduced to two categories and that the amount to be paid to the widows, whose husbands had died between July, 1948, and April, 1949, was being assimilated to those who had died after April, 1949. I should be interested to know, for certain, whether that is the case because the Under-Secretary used a curious 412 phrase when he said that there is no significant distinction between them.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
There is a distinction, but the only difference will be that these transitional widows will have to satisfy the conditions of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1952, in order to get their basic pensions brought up to the 19s. 2d. figure. It will not affect the National Insurance element and they will still get the basic element. But, to get the increase on the basic element, they will have to satisfy the conditions of the Pensions (Increase) Act. Those conditions are that they must be over 40 years of age, or have a dependent child or children. or be incapable of self-support.
§ Mr. Foot
I am grateful for the statement, although it still leaves me in some confusion about the general position. As I understand, subject to these other conditions which have to he established, there is still a system of three scales, which would mean, under the new Regulations. that they would be: 32s. 6d. for the first category, 43s. 6d. for the second category, and 51s. 8d. for the third category. These figures are different from those given by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test.
It may be I have the wrong figures, but I have been provided with them by people who know very much more about these Regulations than I do, who have studied them in great detail, and who have been urging, for many months, that all the pensions should be assimilated and put on the same rate. The reply of the Under-Secretary, when he said there is still some distinction between the last two categories, strengthens even further the case which we have made that the whole of the pensioners should be put on the same rate as those whose husbands died after 1949.
We have not had adequate reasons from the Under-Secretary for rejecting that demand. He rested his case chiefly on saying that this had been approved generally by the police representatives with whom he had discussed the matter. I do not know into what details they went on this subject, but it is certainly true that there are a great number of police officers throughout the country who have been urging that an assimilation should be made.
413 No doubt other hon. Members have received the same statement that I received from the National Association of Retired Police Officers, whose secretary lives near to my constituency. He has put the case to me with considerable detail. Their Association has 26,000 members, according to their claim, and I am sure that they must have considerable support. Although there may have been general agreement among the police authorities with whom the matter was discussed it is also true that there are a great number of police officers who would welcome assimilation, and I do not think that argument of the hon. Gentleman is a very strong one. If he made further inquiries he would find that the police generally would welcome the assimilation we propose.
His other argument was that it might raise difficulties with the Treasury. Presumably, that would be in dealing with other categories of pensioners in different fields. I am not sufficiently knowledge-able about these matter to know which categories that might be, but I do not think there would be any great complaint from any category if these concessions—if the House prefers that word, though I do not think it is the proper one—this right, was granted to these widows.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said it was not a great number. I do not know the figure and I should he grateful if the Under-Secretary would tell us. I understand that the total number of police widows who would be involved if this were done outside the Metropolitan areas is some 7,000. I do not know the figure for London, but the total cannot be very great We had an answer from the Home Secretary a few weeks ago about the amount of money, £62,000, which is involved—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is —65,000."] I thought it was £62,000—
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The figure is greater. We have had discussions on this on several occasions, and I have met deputations. They were proceeding on a basis which did not cover all the facts. One cannot estimate the figure exactly, but I should think it is between a quarter of a million and £300,000.
§ Mr. Foot
I am surprised at that answer, although of course I accept it from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Even so, I should be interested to see how the figure is worked out. I do not know whether that takes into account what would be the reduction in National Assistance if this were done. A number of these widows must be receiving National Assistance at the present time, and there would, therefore, be some reduction on that figure. I thought the figure was considerably smaller. But whatever it is, there seems a strong case for doing what has been asked for from both sides of the House.
If it is a question of the figure which is the reason why the Government are refusing this proposal, we should be told. We should be told the main reasons why the Government refuse this demand, because I believe it is a demand which has strong support throughout the country, and one which will not involve the Government in difficulty in respect of other cases. It is a demand which, if continuously refused, does lay us open to the charge of meanness.
Therefore, I hope that the Government, in view of the request made from both sides of the House, will reconsider this suggestion. Even if they do not do it in these Regulations, which is what I would like, could they give an undertaking that they will examine the situation afresh to see if they can clear up this anomalous position, and put it on a straightforward basis?
§ 12.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)
Having had, in a perfectly respectable capacity, considerable association with police officers. I welcome as heartily as other hon. Gentlemen the improvement in pensions brought about by these Regulations, but I should like to say a word or two on the subject of their form.
In quite another sphere of public service it was brought home to me only last week, when I was seeing some people 415 concerned with a similar matter, how important to the subject of recruiting is the question of pensions. I can picture a young man contemplating the Police Force as a career taking home to his girl friend the necessary documents and trying to explain to her what her pension rights would be. Reference was made to note (c) of the Regulations being based on three or four previous Regulations, but note (f) refers to no fewer than eight previous Regulations, which, presumably, must be consulted and fitted together like a jigsaw before the answer is found, and the young lady satisfied.
If it is impossible to codify for technical reasons at least it would be a considerable help if something which is comprehensible, and contains all the necessary information, is produced for those intending to join the Police Force. That is one of the great essentials if we are to get the recruits the force needs.
On the merits of the Regulations I have not a great deal to add to what has been said. This is just another occasion on which the House is being asked to adopt some measure to preserve an artificial distinction between benefits to those who are entitled to receive them before a certain date and those who are entitled to receive them after a certain date. The Under-Secretary said it had been decided there was no longer a case for preserving a distinction between those entitled to receive a pension on 5th July, 1948, and those entitled to receive a pension on 6th April 1949.
It is equally well arguable that there is no ground for distinction between those who become eligible on 4th July 1948. and those who become eligible on 5th July, 1948. Two widows left in similar circumstances on successive days still have to shop in the same market, and have to face the same problems.
It is also worth bearing in mind in these and similar cases that those who get the least are the eldest. They are the least able to supplement their pensions by their own earning capacity. But the most cogent lesson to be learned—and the House is taking long to learn it—is that every time we pass Regulations or make a new law we merely add to the complexities which someone will have to face in producing a code for all public service pensions, doing justice all round.
416 While I would not suggest that the House should reject these Regulations, I hope that hon. Members, and my right hon. Friends who, from time to time, introduce similar proposals, will always bear in mind that every time that is done the ultimate solution becomes more difficult.
§ 12.10 a.m.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)
I join with those hon. Members in all parts of the House who have welcomed these Regulations. They are, of course, welcome because they afford increases of pension to those concerned, but our complaint is that the older widows are penalised.
Some months ago, and recently, the National Association of Retired Police Officers were received by the Home Secretary. I had the privilege of accompanying the delegates who attended these meetings. I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman very warmly for the courtesy he extended to the representatives of the Association when we put these matters to him. We are glad that he has found it possible to close the gap between what I term the transitional widows and the post-Oaksey widows. By admitting the transitional widows, he has admitted into the category, and we are not complaining about it, those who did not contribute to the National Insurance Fund.
Once having done that, there is no good ground why he should not have gone the whole way and simplified the administration by extending the same benefits to all classes of widows. The cardinal fact is that the husbands of the pre-insurance widows had no opportunity of contributing. They were excluded because of their calling, but these Regulations propose to treat the widows of those officers as though they were defaulters. They were not, yet these Regulations treat this category of widows as though their husbands had failed to pay their contributions.
That is not so. If they had not the opportunity of contributing, why should they be penalised. They were not defaulters. Consequently, there should be no differential treatment. The wages received by the husbands of these widows were not as good as the wages paid today, and they paid superannuation at the rate 417 of 5 per cent. of their pay. This meant an average of 4s. a week for the constable. Such a constable, had he lived, would have been entitled to a pension of £3 3s. a week. Now that he is dead his widow can receive only £30 a year under the Police Pensions Act, 1921.
It is true that this can be built up to 32s. 6d. a week, by the combined effect of subsequent legislation; but is it right that a policeman's widow whose husband was excluded from the opportunity of contributing to the National Insurance Fund should be treated in this way? It should be remembered that the wife of a policeman is in a peculiar position among wives. All her antecedents are carefully scrutinised. The authorities want to know all about her for security purposes. She has to undertake many of the duties of her husband, particularly in the case of a village policeman.
We are grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for having brought forward these improved conditions so as to close one of the gaps which exist in the pensions provisions, but we feel that he should look at the matter again and close all the gaps, because the scheme would be easier to administer. Hon. Members opposite have pleaded that the life of the country should be simplified by less form filling and fewer Regulations. Now the right hon. and learned Gentleman has an opportunity to live up to the professions of his party.
I welcome the Regulations, but I hope the Home Secretary will again consult the Treasury, because, bearing in mind the contribution which the Police Force has made to the welfare and safety of this realm, in time of peace and in war, I am sure we ail feel that this diminishing class of older widowed pensioner is entitled to treatment no less good than that given to the wives of those who died after this specified date.
Why should an arbitrary date alter the conditions? The Home Secretary is a kindly man and I am sure that, having heard the views of all parts of the House, he will reconsider the matter. I am sure that on a free vote the whole House would urge a reconsideration of the present differential treatment. I support the Regulations, but I hope the Home Secretary will think again about the point I have made.
§ 12.18 a.m.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I will keep the House for only a few minutes. This has been a helpful debate, even though there has been some criticism of the Regulations. I thank the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), for what he said, which was most helpful. although, in one instance, he did himself rather less than justice. He spoke of the earliest class of police constables' widows and suggested that they had been overlooked. On a number of occasions their pensions have been advanced —on two occasions when the right hon. Gentleman was Home Secretary —and almost without exception they would now be eligible for 32s. 6d., which is the full supplemental widow's rate.
Although no doubt hon. Members would like to see more done, the position is not quite as bad as might be thought. The hon. Member for Devon-port (Mr. Foot) said, very rightly, that this sort of measure is the best way to deal with the crime wave. but then, rather surprisingly, went on to try to tempt the Home Secretary to commit forgery. It may be that something could be done by the means he suggested to remove the difference between the pre-1948 and the post-1948 widow, but the fact is that the proposal made by hon. Members is to give the benefit of the National Insurance scheme to dependants of men who were never insured under that scheme.
That is the proposal. The right hon. Member for South Shields could not accept it and nor can my right hon. and learned Friend. Quite clearly, that proposal is going far beyond anything which hon. Members have in their minds about the particular difficulties of this particular case. That is the reason, and it is the reason which, I think, all hon. Members, if they found themselves in the position of Home Secretary, would have to accept, however much it goes against the grain, that we could not bring these two classes of people in line with one another. I hope that the House can now give its approval to these Regulations.
§ That the Draft Police Pensions Regulations, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th November, be approved419
§ 12.21 a.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Henderson Stewart)
I beg to move,That the Draft Police Pensions (Scotland) Regulations, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th November. be approved.The Regulations cover the same ground as those for England and Wales. We have had a very full debate on those, and I think that I should be acting as the House would desire if I merely formally moved the acceptance of these Regulations.
§ 12.22 a.m.
§ Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I only want to ask whether we are to be told that the Secretary of State for Scotland will consult the Home Secretary for England and Wales about going back to the Chancellor to see whether they cannot get some better terms. It may well be that my hon. Friend thinks he has only got to move formally these Regulations and that everybody is going to say "Hear, hear," but I am very glad we are having two sets of Regulations brought forward tonight, because I was profoundly disappointed with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department.
My hon. Friend talked a good deal about National Insurance, and I quite see the difficulty from that point of view, but there is nothing, so far as I know, to prevent the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland from doing something better for those people who have been the subject of this debate. I want to hear from the Joint Under-Secretary of State that, if the Home Secretary in England and Wales is not prepared to challenge the Chancellor, Scotland, in defence of Scottish police officers' widows, will take that action. I shall be glad to hear that we are to have something done.
§ 12.23 a.m
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome these Regulations as far as they go. I do agree wholeheartedly with those who have made criticism of the form of the Regulations. I am quite certain that no policeman—indeed, no ordinary citizen, and I take it that we are all ordinary citizens—would have any idea at all just what is to be found in these Regulations, if he 420 read them a dozen times, and because of that I do feel that a very quick attempt to simplify them ought to be made both by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I am sure that one of the extra Under-Secretaries of State we have now might give his time to this question of simplifying these very difficult Regulations. I do not agree at all with the point put forward by an hon. Member opposite who suggested that any young man wanting to make sure of his girl friend and wanting to join the Police Force would influence her if simpler Regulations were brought forward, but I think that for other reasons these Regulations ought to be made much more simple.
I shall not take up another point stressed by almost every speaker on both sides. I am afraid that, as, perhaps, a hard-headed Scotswoman, I must agree with the point that has been put forward by the Under-Secretary of State that, as things are, it is quite impossible to take this one class of widow and treat them differently from other classes of widows. I was a teacher before I became a Member of Parliament. I know the hardship that has been caused to the widows of teachers, those who were widows before 1948 and, indeed, some who have become widows since 1948.
The plea I want to make to the Under-Secretaries for England and Wales, and for Scotland, is wider than any which has been made tonight. If they carry to the Chancellor of the Exchequer a plea for this one class of widow the Chancellor has an easy answer, namely, that if it is done for the one class it will have to be done for all classes; but if we could get the co-operation of the Under-Secretaries, or of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for the Home Office, in saying that it has been voiced clearly tonight that there is a case for the widows of teachers and every other category, we may get somewhere. We shall get nowhere if we confine it to the widows who may be covered by these Regulations. I should like the Joint Under-Secretary to say whether he can support this plea.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
The hon. Lady has made her appeal with great charm, and it is difficult not to fall at once for her blandishments. All I can say is that she can hardly expect my hon. 421 Friends and I, though competent, to do what she and her hon. Friends failed to do when in office. This is a difficult matter. Nevertheless. I think that it is logically right, and that this is probably the right way to do it. We will look at the suggestion carefully. Personally, as to the form of the Regulations, I agree with her. I would like very much, with the assistance of my hon. Friends, to make them simpler.
§ That the Draft Police Pensions (Scotland) Regulations, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th November. be approved.