HC Deb 26 November 1953 vol 521 cc588-603

6.57 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, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th November, be approved. These Regulations were made under Sections 1 and 3 of the Police Pensions Act, 1948. In accordance with the requirements of that Act, the Home Secretary has consulted the Police Council and they have expressed their agreement with the Regulations.

The object of the Regulations is very narrow. It is to provide increased pensions for the widows of certain policemen, those who are in effect murdered while acting in the execution of their duty. The numbers involved are very small indeed. There are nine known cases, including two in Scotland and four in the Metropolitan police district. A detailed examination has only been made in the case of the Metropolitan police records, so it may be that in provincial forces a few more cases will come to light, but we do not expect that there will be more than a dozen or so altogether.

The present Regulations provide for a common level of pension for the widows of all police officers who are killed in the execution of their duty. The pension rate in those cases, after taking into account certain payments from National Insurance sources, is not less than one-third of the husband's average rate of pay during the last three years of his life.

Recently there have been several cases in which a policeman has been murdered by armed criminals and the public has been perturbed at the amount of pension available to the widow. The matter was discussed on an Adjournment debate in this House on the 11th November, 1952, when it was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. F. Harris). Since that debate the Government have considered the matter very carefully.

As I explained during that debate, when I was answering for the Government, there were very grave difficulties in this connection. Those difficulties are of two kinds. First, the widow of a police officer who is, for example, drowned in a gallant attempt at rescue, or the widow of a police officer who is killed while on point duty, is no less deserving than the widow of one of the policemen referred to in the Order. Secondly, there are other occupations than the police in which a man has to run very special risks and may be killed and the widow might seek some corresponding claim to special treatment. But the Government, after very careful consideration of this matter, have concluded that the widows of policemen who die as a result of an attack "intrinsically likely to cause death" can be put in an altogether special category.

It is always possible that the policeman on duty may meet an armed criminal, and the policeman himself is very rarely armed to deal with such a criminal; he is not armed as a matter of principle. Moreover, there is a strong tradition in the force that the police officer must be reasonable and fair in his dealings with even the most worthless and most ruthless elements in the com- munity. These restraints are peculiarly characteristic of British police methods. They have had their effect on the criminal community and I am certain that no one in any part of the House would wish to see any alteration in those methods. We all think it is essential that the policeman should generally go unarmed and that he should display fairness even towards the criminal.

Nevertheless, in a very small number of cases, the result of this is to expose the police officer to a quite exceptional risk. I do not mean an exceptional risk in the sense that it is exceptionally great, but it is of a quite peculiar kind. The police officer uniquely has to run, not, perhaps, a higher risk than people engaged in some other occupations, but a risk against which he is deliberately not protected, or not as fully protected as he might be. The Government feel that the peculiar character of this risk demands special treatment. It is vitally important that the police officer should accept the special position which tradition and policy require him to adopt, and it is right that he should know that his position is recognised by the community. That is what these Regulations seek to do.

The Regulations themselves are fairly simple. Where a police officer dies in the exceptional circumstances referred to, the widow's entitlement under them will be at least one-half, instead of one-third, of the average of the pay for the last three years. To give a practical example, in the Croydon case, which was discussed in the Adjournment debate in November, 1952, the widow will receive £4 4s. 6d. a week, instead of £2 16s. 4d. as under the existing Regulations.

The Regulations are retrospective in the sense that an increase can be given to existing widows; Part II is concerned exclusively with past cases. But they are not retrospective in the sense of giving any increased benefit for back periods. I am advised that it is beyond the power of any Regulations to do that, and so the matter cannot even be discussed. I think that the Regulations are fair and will be generally acceptable to the House.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

I ask hon. Members to support the Government in bringing forward these Regulations. I give away no secrets of the last Government when I say that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) set this scheme in motion. In fact, in December, 1951, two months after he ceased to be Home Secretary, he said from this Dispatch Box that when he left office he was having negotiations with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that he hoped the present Home Secretary would be able to continue them and introduce such Regulations.

I mention that because I know that the Under-Secretary would not wish to mislead the House. It is true that he has the credit for bringing in the Regulations to night, but it is not only since the 1952 Adjournment debate that this matter was taken up; it had been taken up a long time before. As it happens, the hon. Gentleman has the honour of introducing something which was denied to me when I was in his office.

I entirely agree that one of the reasons that we have respect and affection for our police is that they go about their business unarmed, like ordinary citizens. It must be difficult to have the same respect and affection for police in countries where they are armed. On psychological grounds there are many arguments, but there is the practical one of the temptation to use the arms unnecessarily.

I read about a year ago in the "New York Times," which is sent to so many hon. Members free by the United States Government, of a case where, during a practice black-out in New York, a policeman went to a tavern and told the tavern-keeper to dim his lights. The tavern keeper refused to do so and said, "Why should I?" The policeman told him that it was dangerous not to do so. The man said he would not do it. There and then, the policeman drew his revolver and shot and badly wounded the tavern-keeper, thereby proving his point that it was dangerous not to obey the regulation.

We recognize that these men who are murdered while performing their duties are real heroes, because in accordance with our tradition they have gone into battle unarmed. I can think of seven of these heroes since the war: Edgar, Baxter, Fraser, Jagger and Miles in England, and Gibson and MacLeod in Scotland. The very least that we can do for them is to make further provision for their widows, and I am sure that the House will accept this Order.

7.10 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)

These Regulations bring benefits to a number of police widows, which I am certain both sides of the House welcome. But the discussion of these Regulations gives us an opportunity of stating the case for another group of police widows who ought to be included in these Regulations and given certain benefits. This group includes those widows of police men whose husbands died before July, 1948, and who are excluded from the benefits of the improved pensions that have been given since.

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid the hon. Member cannot discuss that on these Regulations. These Regulations are strictly confined to the widows of officers who have been killed by violence in the course of their duties, and it would be out of order to discuss any other class of widow upon them.

Dr. King

Am I not in order in suggesting that another group of widows should have been included in these Regulations?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid not. The hon. Member is not entitled to do that on consideration of these Regulations.

Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)

Mr. Speaker, I have considerable doubts whether these particular Regulations should be approved by the House, and one of the reasons for my attitude is the inequalities that exist in pensions for other police widows. I fully realise that what we are discussing is a very narrow subject, but it is a factor in our minds which will affect our attitude to these Regulations. With great respect, I should like to suggest that this will have some bearing on our attitude to these Regulations.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot answer for what effect these Regulations will have on the minds of hon. Members. I am bound by these Regulations, and the debate must be confined to them. There are other large questions surrounding this issue of pensions for police widows, but they must be discussed on other occasions. This debate is confined strictly to the subject matter of the Regulations. Those are the rules of the House, and I have no power to vary them.

7.12 p.m.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

I rise to support these Regulations, as I am sure every hon. Member will. I can assure the House that it is not my intention to emulate other members of my family in detaining the House unduly at this time. I think once in a period of seven days is quite adequate for that kind of thing.

I support these Regulations because, quite obviously, they do justice and protect a section of the community that is most vulnerable and one that has rendered a public service in preserving law and order, which is one of the fundamental characteristics of this great country. We feel that those who are exposed to this particular risk should feel that in the event of anything happening to them their widows should enjoy particular benefits. I am very glad that the widows of the men who were murdered before 5th July, 1948, are included.

The Under-Secretary of State widened the discussion on these Regulations, because he posed the Question whether the Home Secretary should not include the widows of men who were drowned while doing a meritorious act. He was able to argue the position in regard to those widows, and I am afraid that we are, Mr. Speaker, in pari delicto in this particular matter. I bow to your Ruling in this respect, but I am very anxious to find a way, if it were possible, to include all the widows whose husbands died before 5th July, 1948. They are known as the pre-Oaksey widows.

The widows of men who were murdered before 5th July, 1948, and are covered by these new Regulations, were not covered by National Insurance. They were precluded in that period from paying contributions, and yet we are pleased to see that, although they did not make any contributions under the National Insurance Act, their rights are not worsened by virtue of that fact. We are delighted that the Under-Secretary of State should have created yet another precedent which we hope he will follow in regard to the general class of pre-Oaksey widows other than those whose husbands were killed during the course of their duties.

There are disparities for the widows other than those who were murdered before 5th July, 1948. Under the 1921 rate they are still getting 11s. 6d. per week or £30 per annum, whereas those who were widowed under similar circum stances after 5th July, 1948, received as much as 19s. 2d. per week plus the equivalent of the National Insurance widow's pension of 32s. 6d. per week, making a total of 51s. 8d. a week.

While the Home Secretary was correct in consulting the Police Council about this matter, I feel that he ought to have extended his consultations to the National Association of Retired Police Officers, who are particularly interested in this matter of widows' pensions. They welcome these new Regulations but say that they do not by any means go far enough. So, while hoping that the Regulations will be agreed to, I trust that the Home Secretary will take an early opportunity of sweeping away all injustices applicable to widows other than the widows of men murdered before 5th July, 1948, so that justice will be done in all cases where men have died in the course of their service as police officers.

In conclusion, may I say that in my opinion the time has come when we ought to set up a Royal Commission to deal with the whole question of pensions. There are so many fields in which pensions are payable and payable at varying rates by different Departments—

Mr, Speaker

The wide field to which the hon. Member is alluding is out of order in this debate. We can deal only with the widows whose cases are covered by the Regulations.

Mr. Lever

All I want to do is to point out that when a layman wants to refer to a particular question, he asks a question about the widow of a man who was murdered before 5th July, 1948, and he is then able to see at a glance what is the position with regard to other sections of the community. I hope the Home Secretary will think again about the other widows whom he knows that we have in mind and to whom we should like to see justice done.

7.18 p.m.

Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)

I should like to ask one or two questions about these Regulations, and my attitude to them will be dependent to some extent on the replies I get. The Under-Secretary of State gave the House an explanation of the principles he is applying in arriving at the rates and the categories of benefit. I appreciate his difficulties regarding the extension of these more favourable rates to other categories, but I will not go into that.

It seems to me to be relevant to the argument to discuss how he in fact arrived at those figures. Were the figures related specifically to the general widows' pension rates, because it seems that there must be a relation between the two? Were they related to the figures of the pre-1948 widows, who are a category that has been taken into account, and what were the special circumstances that arose?

It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman should also bear in mind the variations in the value of the £ in arriving at the figures set out in the Regulations. I am referring both to the variations in the original contributions of the police officers concerned at a time when the £ was of a much greater value than it is today and also the actual return that they receive.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that he could not make these Regulations retrospective, and it would be out of order to discuss that aspect of the matter, but the action is retrospective in that it refers to events which took place in the past. Obviously the entitlement of these widows must, in the mind of the hon. Gentleman and in the minds of the Minister and his advisers, depend to some extent on the rate of contribution which was paid.

I do not ask the Parliamentary Secretary to copy my hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) and offend against you, Sir, by going out of order, but I respectfully submit that in the form in which I have presented this, it is relevant to our discussion of these Regulations, and it is relevant to the attitude of mind that we shall take in arriving at our decision. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will look at the different categories of widows who gain an advantage from these Regulations, and also at those who do not, and will tell us the principles which he applied in arriving at the figures read out in the Regulations under discussion.

7.22 p.m.

Dr. King

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask whether I have exhausted my right of addressing the House, owing to the fact that nothing I have said so far has been in order?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member was good enough to sit down when I drew attention to the limits of Order in this discussion, and then another hon. Member got up. I think the hon. Member had not concluded his speech, and if he can keep in order, I have no doubt that the House will be delighted to hear him.

Dr. King

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I realise now, as one unlearned in the ways of the House, that what I wanted to do was to congratulate the Home Secretary on having in these Regulations made provision for the widows of men who were killed before July, 1948. That is a wise provision because, had the right hon. and learned Gentleman not made it, the widows of men who were murdered previous to 1948 might be suffering the kind of disparity of treatment and the unjustness of treatment which other older police widows suffer.

That injustice, and the kind of injustice which these widows would have suffered, can be realised by the fact that the widows of men who died before July, 1948, if they are the widows of sergeants and constables, get 11s. 6d. a week as opposed to the normal provision of 19s. 2d. a week. Because their husbands were not entitled to insure under National Insurance, they are deprived of the extra National Insurance benefit of 32s. 6d. a week and can only obtain from every source a maximum of 32s. 6d. as compared with the normal police widow's pension of 51s. 8d., so that if the Home Secretary had not made this kind of provision for the widows of murdered men, he would have been dealing as unjustly with them as he is with the older widows for whose cause I would have liked to plead if it had been in order.

7.24 p.m.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)

I apologise sincerely to the Minister that I was not here when he spoke on these Regulations. I want to express my appreciation to the Home Secretary and to the Home Office for bringing them forward because this was supported on all sides of the House and will meet with general satisfaction from the police. I am sure that it will do a lot of good in regard to future recruiting and, therefore, I appreciate the action taken by the Home Office.

Mr. Shackleton

Are we not to have some further explanation from the Undersecretary?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The only question which the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) asked which appeared to be strictly in order was how the figures were arrived at, and I thought I had explained it. In the ordinary case the amount is the minimum amount of one-third of the average of the last three years' pay. Under these Regulations the amount is one-half of the average of the last three years' pay. I do not think I can make it any plainer than that.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That the Draft Police Pensions Regulations, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th November, be approved.

7.26 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Henderson Stewart)

I beg to move, That the Draft Police Pensions (Scotland) Regulations, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th November, be approved. The Scottish Regulations are almost identical in terms, and certainly in objectives, with the ones we have just considered, and therefore I need only move them formally.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

We welcome this step towards putting right a matter that was causing some apprehension in the minds of the general public. It is fortunate that the type of offence anticipated here is not common. Violence of this kind at the moment seems mainly confined to misguided youths who do not seem to find any proper outlet for their rather militant activities. These youths seem to be confined mainly to our big cities where there is no expanse of country and none of the facilities that ought to be taking up their time. Crime in earlier days used to be associated with poverty but, curiously enough, in these later days much of this crime is not concerned with poor people struggling against poverty, but seems to have developed into a kind of bravado commando enterprise in which people from many parts of society are taking part—

Mr. Speaker

I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that he is not entitled under these Regulations to discuss the causes of crime in general. The debate is confined to whether we should make this provision for the widows of men who are, to use the military term, killed in action.

Mr. Woodburn

That is a point to which I was coming—that it is a different type of crime with which we are dealing that is coming from a quite unusual source. In earlier days the police were able to deal with the type of crime that I have described, but this type is quite unusual in many circumstances and comes quite unexpectedly. Therefore, policemen are placed in a very difficult position.

In dealing with this type of crime the policemen have to risk their lives. As the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said, people risk their lives in many occupations, but in this case I gather that what is meant is that when a policeman is faced with an armed person and goes forward to deal with his armed assailant—in other words to arrest him—the policeman is really taking the offensive. Under the terms of these Regulations, is the policeman attacked when the man resists arrest and shoots him? In other words, will the close reading of the words of these Regulations deprive the very people we want to benefit of the blessing of this if a lawyer comes along and says, "That man is not attacking, he is defending himself against the policeman"?

I think a lot of misunderstandings will arise. I have in mind two cases in which policemen were shot. The deputy-chief constable of Edinburgh was shot by a man with a revolver. I do not know that anybody is quite sure why the crime was committed. The deputy-chief constable was not arresting the man, he was merely driving in his car. He was shot at without warning and killed. I take it that in his case the widow would be entitled to a pension. There was another case in which a policeman was shot on his beat by a man who turned out to be a mental defective. Does this provision cover that case?

There could also be the case of a policeman who endeavours to stop a motor-car and jumps on the running board and the driver, in order to get rid of the policeman, crushes him between his own car and a tram. That would be a case of a policeman being attacked, but it would not be an attack by an armed man. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department mentioned an armed attack. I take it that there is nothing in these Regulations which says that death must occur as a result of an armed attack.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)


Mr. Woodburn

I should like to know whether the Regulations cover a case where a policeman jumps on the bonnet of a car and the driver causes him to be crushed against a tram in the way that I have described. I am afraid that many difficulties may arise in trying to ensure fair treatment under these Regulations. I hope that the Home Secretary will look at the wording and, if necessary, revise it so as to secure a clear indication of what is meant. There is a possibility that the people for whom the Regulations are intended to cater may by some quirk be deprived of benefit. I have known this House pass legislation before and by the time it got to the Treasury it was interpreted quite differently from what the House of Commons meant, with the result that the people whom it was intended to benefit received nothing at all. I hope that the Home Secretary will look into that point.

Another point which will have to be looked at again concerns this question of the continually changing value of money, to which reference has already been made. I think that some day these pensions must be based, not on the amount of money received by the husband in the last three years of his service, but on the current scale of pay of persons of the same rank still serving in the force, so that if, for instance, a constable's pay rises, the widow's pension would rise in some relationship with that pay. I realise that that introduces a much wider question, but nevertheless it is a very important point.

This new provision may save policemen's lives. I can imagine, just at the very moment when he is going to arrest an armed man, a policeman's mind fluttering for a moment to thoughts about his wife and children and that if there was the slightest doubt about their subsequent welfare he might hesitate to act. One could understand his hestitating, and in certain circumstances he who hesitates is lost. We are doing the minimum of our duty in trying to give some assurance to people who have to risk their lives for the community that, at any rate, their wives and bairns will not suffer from the consequences. But I am not sure whether these Regulations will ensure that for every policeman. It is for that reason that I hope that if the Home Secretary finds that the wording of the Regulations will not accomplish all that he intends it to do he will withdraw the Regulations and introduce fresh ones to achieve his purpose.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)

Not for the first time I am lost in admiration of the capacity of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) to find a wealth of material in a very narrow and small point. I merely want to utter one or two sentences in commendation and to welcome these Regulations, because I think that it is as well that a back bencher from Scotland should add a few words.

It is a most remarkable circumstance, which probably could not be paralleled anywhere else in the world, that out of a population of five million in Scotland there are only two widows affected by these Regulations, only two policemen having been killed since the war in the execution of their duty. More remark able still is that out of a population of 50 million in Great Britain there are only nine of these widows. I do not think that that could be possibly be said of any other country. Still more remarkable to contemplate is that in Scotland these widows are widows not because of any act by hardened criminals going about their criminal intentions. As far as I can recall, they are widows because of the momentary impulse of a youth who was not a criminal and had a sudden brainstorm.

In connection with these Regulations dealing with the pensions of police widows, it might be topical to mention that, in spite of the real or illusory activities of men in Scotland who are not criminals but who are engaged perhaps in dangerous occupations and pastimes, we have no fear that the number of women to benefit by the Regulations will be increased—that is, in spite of the Scottish Republican Army and its alleged activities. I welcome the Regulations because the police of Scotland are such an excellent body of men and women. I know them in my own constituency. It is an encouragement to Members of Parliament who know their police forces so well that this additional small but important improvement in their conditions of service has been granted by this House.

7.38 p.m.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

As the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) has spoken as a back bencher from the other side of the House, I feel it incumbent upon me to say a few words as a back bencher from this side in commendation of these Regulations. When I came into the House a moment ago, I had no intention of doing so, but I feel that these Regulations remedy an injustice which might be suffered by the widow of a policeman who was killed in the execution of his duty. I believe that this new provision has arisen from the well-known Croydon case, but we hope that the population of Scotland will be so law-abiding that there will be no occasion for the Regulations to be used in future.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) referred to the wording of the Regulations, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will look into the question whether the words …was attacked by a person… really cover all the possibilities that might occur. But there are other guiding words— …acting in the execution of his duty… and I doubt if any police authority would look with unsympathetic eyes on a case where a policeman was killed in such circumstances.

I am not absolutely certain that in all cases a policeman is covered when he has not been killed but has been injured. I am afraid I cannot develop that point now. It seems tome, provided the words are enough, that this should bring justice to the few people affected in Scotland. I hope that in the future, as in the past, the people of Scotland will be so law-abiding that it will not be necessary to evoke these Regulations at all.

7.40 p.m.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

By leave, the point raised by the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) affects both England and Scotland, and perhaps I may answer for the two at the same time. If the right hon. Member will look at the English Regulations—exactly the same applies in the case of the Scottish—he will see that the decision rests on "the opinion of the police authority." They have to decide, not a legal question, but a pure question of fact. They have to see first whether the police officer was attacked, and then whether death occurred as a result. Those are two fairly simple facts to ascertain.

They have also to ascertain whether the police officer was attacked in a manner "intrinsically likely to cause death." In other words, supposing something was done which in fact caused death but which would not in the ordinary way cause death to a normal person, that widow would not be within the Regulations. If her husband happened to have a thin skull and received a knock which would not have killed a normal man, the widow would not be within the Regulations.

Mr. F. Harris

The words "in the opinion of the police authority" are in the Explanatory Note but do not actually appear in the Regulations.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

If my hon. Friend will look at the Regulations he will see those words quite clearly. In the case of England, they occur in the proviso to the first Regulation. I was explaining to the right hon. Member that he must look at the word "intrinsically" and appreciate that it does not mean that where a death happened to ensue that is enough. It has to be shown that the form of the attack was such that a reasonable person might expect death to ensue from it.

Mr. Woodburn

I do not think the hon. Member has dealt with the point I made. If we take the instance of the policeman who, in order to effect an arrest, jumped on a motor car and the person in the car drove it against a tram-car with the object of scraping him off and killing him that would certainly cause death. It would be an attack on the policeman but it would not seem, under the strict reading of the word "attack," to be so interpreted. But, in the case of a policeman who was shot by an attacker while in the execution of his duty, the policeman might be quite unconscious and never realise anything before death. He may be acting in no sense in an unusually brave manner for a policeman but be definitely attacked by an armed man and his widow would benefit, whereas the widow of the other policeman I mentioned who did an act of bravery by trying to arrest an escaping gangster by crashing a car would not benefit.

I do not see that "the opinion of the police authority" could get past the Regulation; according to the wording it is only their opinion which has effect. I may be wrong, but it does seem that it should not be left entirely to their discretion to estimate the whole circumstances of the case. That might exclude some of the very people whom I gather it is intended should benefit.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

It is not a question of discretion in the sense that the police authority can do as they please. They have to comply with the Regulation and form a fair opinion as to the facts to see that they comply with the Regulation. The right hon. Member is trying to define the dividing line. There must be such a dividing line, and whether a particular case is within it may be a difficult question to determine. I am afraid that is inevitable whenever we seek to draw up Regulations of this kind. I would hesitate to try to give an opinion on hypothetical facts such as the right hon. Member put forward, but I do not think that in the great majority of cases there will be any difficulty about seeing whether the facts do or do not fall within the Regulations.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That the Draft Police Pensions (Scotland) Regulations, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th November, be approved.