HC Deb 13 March 1956 vol 550 cc271-82

5.48 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. W. F. Deedes)

I beg to move, That the Draft Police Pensions Regulations, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st February, be approved. One or two points arise from these Regulations which I ought to explain to the House. They introduce a scheme for improved pensions for police widows in return for an increase in the rate of pension contributions payable by police officers. If the House approves them, the new scheme will come into operation on 1st April of this year.

In order that there should be no misunderstanding, I should next make it clear that the scheme will not apply to existing widows or to the widows of police officers who will have retired before 1st April, 1956. Regulations to give the existing widows the increases appropriate in the light of the Pensions (Increase) Bill, which is now in Committee, will come before the House for approval in due course.

The police service was the first public service to provide a comprehensive scheme of widows' pensions, and that was as long ago as 1918. The service pensions were normally flat rate awards and, like all flat-rate pensions, these benefitted the widows of officers who died after a few years' service but were less favourable for the widows of officers with longer service.

The need for improved police service pensions has been felt for a long time, but previous attempts to reach an agreement have always broken down on the question how the additional cost should be apportioned. Lord Oaksey's Committee on Police Conditions of Service, which reported in 1949, recognised the need for improved widows' pensions but suggested that any substantial increase must depend on the willingness of the police officers to contribute to the cost.

In the light of this recommendation, a Working Party was set up to consider possible schemes, and one of the first tasks of the newly-constituted Police Council for Great Britain, which consists of representatives of serving officers and police authorities, was to consider the Working Party Report. After very long discussions, which were fortified throughout by the determination of both sides that none of the difficulties should be solved at the expense of the widows themselves, the Council succeeded in reaching unanimous agreement—I stress that—on the details of a scheme which it then recommended to my right hon. and gallant Friend.

The draft Regulations which the House is being asked to approve have been prepared to give effect to these recommendations, and my right hon. and gallant Friend has asked me to express his pleasure that it has been possible to reach agreement on this long awaited improvement in the police pensions scheme.

I do not want to take up time by referring to the Regulations in detail, unless any hon. Member has a specific question to ask, but it might be helpful if I explained that the scheme will introduce a widow's pension related to her husband's pay and length of service and will provide her with the equivalent of one-third of her husband's pension. For the widows of officers who die with only a limited period of service, the present flat rate awards will continue as minima, with a small increase if the officer had completed ten years' service or more. Special pensions will continue to be payable at the higher rate when the husband dies as a result of an injury received in the course of his duty.

Half the cost of the new scheme will be met by the police authorities and the Exchequer and half will be met by the officers themselves. Men who enter the police service after 1st April, 1956, will be required to pay a pension contribution of 6¼ per cent. of their pay, instead of 5 per cent. as at present. Officers who are already serving on 1st April, 1956, will not be required to participate in the new scheme, unless they wish to do so; for them it will be an optional arrangement. If they enter the scheme their past service will be taken into account in calculating their widows' pensions and they will have to meet half the cost, the other half being met by the police authorities and the Exchequer.

I should add that the new scale of widows' pensions will not, of course, extend to the widows of men who are serving on 1st April, 1956, and who do not wish to participate in the new scheme. That is axiomatic. This scheme is being introduced on the unanimous recommendation of representatives of serving officers and the police authorities. I commend the Regulations to the House in the belief that they intrduce a substantial improvement in the police pensions scheme.

5.52 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)

The House will be grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary for the explanation he has given of these very complicated Regulations. It is a year or two now since I last had occasion to participate in a debate on this very important subject, which has been coming up almost every year with new draft regulations of one kind or another; and I must say that in the interval the complications do not seem to have been reduced very much.

The difficulty the layman has in judging of the adequacy of any new pensions scheme for the police arises from the fact that we are now in a period when the police, like any other section of the community which once used to have a great advantage of the population as a whole in the security their calling offered, are now having to adjust themselves to the provision of far more general welfare to the whole population. Secondly, what seemed adequate in the way of pensions some years ago is no longer adequate as an attraction to the police service.

I think it is that above all which causes the difficulties the police service as a whole has been finding in recruiting officers; perhaps even more in retaining officers in the early years after they have been recruited. Every time that subject comes up for debate in this House there is a reference to the constable's wife. The constable's wife, particularly in the rural district, plays an extremely important part in the effectiveness of the service her husband can give. Therefore, anything relating to the provisions for wives—in this case provision for them in case they become widows—is a very important matter.

That, clearly, is an improvement on what has gone before. One notices according to figures which I have been shown that the improvement rises very steeply with length of service. I think I am right in saying that for all ranks after service of ten years the improvement amounts only to £5 over the present flat rate. After twenty years' service the improvement varies with rank from the smallest improvement of an increase of £21 for constables to the largest improvement for £48 for chief inspectors. If we go on a further ten years, after thirty years—again varying with rank—the improvement is £92 for constables and £157 for a chief inspector.

As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, that improvement is in return for increased contributions. Having pointed out how steeply the improvement rises in the later stages, I wish to call attention to what many have thought to be the main defect of these proposals—that in the very early stages, in the first ten years of a man's service, there is no advance on the benefit received, although he will be paying increased contributions.

If he dies before having served ten years, his widow will get no better pension than she would have under the existing Regulations, although for perhaps three, four, six or eight years her husband will have been paying the increased contribution. Constables are principally involved and after fifteen years' service these Regulations merely provide them with an additional £5 over the present flat rate. One wonders whether it might not have been possible for this quite small rise to have been offered earlier than at the end of ten years' service, or possibly even at once.

The Joint Under-Secretary referred to the contribution which officers themselves make. I believe it is correct that about three-quarters of the improvement in the benefit will be covered by contributions from serving officers and only 25 per cent. by public funds. While I am not criticising that—I only note that the present position is not startlingly generous from that point of view—I commend to the Government and the hon. Gentleman further consideration of these Regulations. I do not suppose that they consider the Regulations as final and forever any more than any other Regulations are. I commend to the hon. Gentleman the possible improvement to which I have referred.

As the hon Gentleman said, there has been agreement on the newly constituted Police Council It would be very unusual, to say the least, for this House to refuse to accept regulations agreed on that basis. We on this side of the House regard it as a welcome early fruit of the new Police Council, which I am glad to think is giving satisfaction, as I believe, is generally agreed. It is an improvement on the statutory councils which went before. We are glad to welcome this instalment—if, perhaps, that is what it may prove to be—and hope that others making better provision for the widows of police officers will follow in due course.

5.58 p.m.

Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)

There are two points made by my right lion. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) with which I agree. One was that the pensions schemes for police officers are very complicated. The other point was that while these proposals represent some improvement they cannot really be described as generous.

There is one aspect of the police pensions schemes to which I should like to refer, which, in my judgment, certainly cannot be described as generous. I wish to refer briefly to it and although I appreciate that it may not be possible for the Joint Under-Secretary to give me any satisfactory answer this evening, I give notice that I shall seek an opportunity of raising this matter on some future occasion.

The aspect of police pensions to which I refer is that which arises when the police officer is discharged from the service as a result of injuries sustained in the execution of his duty. There is an arrangement now under which a supplementary pension is payable over and above the ill-health award when the officer is injured in the course of his duty. My submission is that this supplementary award is never generous and, towards the end of the officer's service, it decreases, is mingy, and immediately before retirement it disappears. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the ill-health award rises fairly steeply towards the end of the officer's term of service. The present arrangement is that as the retirement pension increases the amount which becomes payable out of the supplementary fund on account of the officer's disability or injury decreases. That is wrong and should be re-examined.

I will give an example of the sort of thing I have in mind. I have a constituent who served for twenty-one years in the police and was then severely injured in the course of his duty. He was called upon to deal with some unruly and drunken American soldiers and in the course of trying to persuade them to leave a dance hall he was thrown down stone stairs, severely injured, and subsequently discharged as unfit. He received £148 18s. 11d. as an ill-health pension. Towards that, as my right hon. Friend said—and it was referred to by the Joint Under-Secretary—he has paid a contribution. He was entitled to that pension by virtue of his contribution and on the basis of his length of service.

He would have got it, anyhow. In addition to the ill-health pension, he receives out of the supplementary fund a pension on account of his disability, which amounts to £85 13s. 6d. Of that amount, however, he receives £70 4s. as industrial injuries benefit from the National Insurance Fund. Of course, he also pays a contribution to that Insurance Fund and he is entitled to that benefit as a right. So the fact is that on account of his disability, sustained in the execution of his duty, this police officer received an award of £15 19s. 6d. a year from the Police Fund.

As the industrial injuries benefit of the National Insurance Fund increased, in order to meet the increased cost of living, the award from the Police Fund decreased until the amount which he actually receives is not more than 6s. a week. This seems to me to be wholly wrong. I would have thought that the special risk which the conscientious police officer will run is something which ought to be covered by more generous compensation if it involves him in injury or accident. As things now are, the compensation, as I have said, is by no means generous—it is mingy—and towards the end of his service the compensation element practically disappears.

Let us take the case of two police officers reaching the end of their service after 24 years 6 months, both of whom are entitled on retirement at the end of the 25 years' service to a certain pension towards which they have paid contributions, and which they will be receiving as a right. If these two police officers are confronted with some emergency in the course of which some risk will be run, it is possible for them to reason that if they go into this emergency in trying to carry out their duties and take an extra risk which may involve them in injury, no award after that length of service—no compensation—is payable at all.

If one officer, being conscientious, takes the risk and is injured, and the other is a little more cautious, at the end of the 25 years' service both men may leave the service, one discharged through ill-health, and the other having completed his term of service. The one who comes out in the ordinary way on retirement can take on another job—most of these officers do—to supplement his pension; the other, who was more conscientious and was disabled, because of his disability is unable to take another job, and is thereby severely penalised. I think that this is a matter which ought to be examined again with great care.

I am not suggesting that at any time any police officer would be backward if an emergency arises. I have great admiration and respect for the way in which police officers carry out their duties, but it has been put to me by policemen now serving that in the light of the present arrangements there is an incentive to exercise a little extra caution when an officer is nearing the end of his term of service.

I am hoping, as my right hon. Friend has said, that this is not the final word on these pension matters. I hope that there will be further improvement. In the particular case of my constituent I shall ask that there shall be a special investigation and some additional payment in the light of the case which I hope to make out on some other occasion to the Home Secretary, or to the Joint Under-Secretary. Apart from that individual case, which, I hope, will be favourably considered, there is a general principle here which I trust the Joint Under-Secretary will look into.

6.6 p.m.

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

I should like to reinforce the comments made by my hon. Friend, the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) He referred to the police officer who meets with an accident, or who receives a disability while doing a difficult job in the police force before he retires, which prevents him from taking a post of some responsibility after he retires.

There is a further matter about which police forces are very concerned. It is the case in which a police officer, in the course of his duty, is completely incapacitated from doing any other work when he retires. It is felt that insufficient consideration has been given to cases of that kind, and that they should be dealt with differently from cases where police officers retire at the end of their period of service.

I think that the case to which my hon. Friend has referred is one which requires looking at again. A special arrangement should be made, particularly in view of the legislation which may come forward later, for the additional protection of the police officer who, in the course of his duty, receives an injury which makes it impossible for him to work again. In making this request, I am speaking for the police forces of the country. They have very difficult work to do, and they do it without considering the consequences. There should be some additional pension for a policeman who has to retire through injury so that he does not have to worry, after his retirement, how he will maintain his family.

6.9 p.m.

Mr. Deedes

By leave of the House, may I say that I am sure that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) will appreciate that the points which they have raised go a little wider than the Regulations now under discussion. I will certainly take note of what they have said; but I am sure that they do not expect me to deal with these matters just now.

I should like to answer the point made by the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger), since it relates to the remark made by his hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge about the ungenerosity of the award, and the question of additional cost being borne by the police officers. The cost of the new scheme is being divided equally between the police officers, on the one side, and the police authorities and the Exchequer, on the other side. It is true that the police officers will bear 80 per cent.—rather more than three quarters—of the additional cost of the new scheme, but that is because the police authorities and the Exchequer are carrying the greater part of the existing cost.

Police officers are bearing only a small proportion—about 20 per cent.—of the existing cost and this is reflected in their share of the additional cost. Although the cost of future widows' awards will be divided on a 50–50 basis, police authorities and the Exchequer will still bear about 75 per cent. of the cost of police officers' pensions. I make that point to put the matter in perspective.

The point was raised of the inadequacy of the awards during the first ten-year period. Obviously, it is impossible to work out a scheme on the basis of men who die during the first ten years of their service. The flat rate minima are already a good deal more generous to these men than to those in other schemes. In passing from a flat rate scheme to a scheme related to the husband's length of service, the advantages are bound to be less for a man with short service. That is a proposition which it is almost impossible to get round. I hope that with this explanation, the House will feel able to pass the Regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Draft Police Pensions Regulations, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st February, be approved.

6.12 p.m.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. William Grant)

I beg to move, That the Draft Police Pensions (Scotland) Regulations, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd February, be approved. These Regulations are mutatis mutandis precisely similar to those which have just been described by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Their effect is identical. As far as I know, no special Scottish points arise to which the attention of hon. Members need be drawn, and the Regulations have been approved by the statutory Scottish Police Council.

6.13 p.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

We on this side accept the Regulations, not because we think they are generous but because they are an improvement on the present position concerning widows' pensions. There is a great deal of discussion nowadays about conditions of service, not only in the police force but in many public services.

There are, perhaps, two reasons for making conditions better, and those two reasons may apply to these Regulations tonight. First, their provisions are considered to be just, and secondly, there is need to increase recruitment. Both of these reasons apply to our police service. In some areas more than in others, there is a great shortage of men in the police force.

We on this side are surprised to find that the Solicitor-General is dealing with these Regulations tonight.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart), who is the Joint Under-Secretary of State, has been called away on the death of his mother. That is why I am deputising for him tonight.

Miss Herbison

I am very sorry indeed that that is the reason for the Under-Secretary's absence. I was not suggesting that the Solicitor-General would be unable to deal wtih the Regulations, for anyone who tried to fathom them could only come to the conclusion that a legal mind was necessary to understand them. I was not suggesting that the presence of the Solicitor-General implied any disservice to the House.

We have been told by the hon. and learned Gentleman and by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department that there was agreement on the Regulations. I accept that there was agreement on both sides, by the police authorities and by the police force or the Police Federation, but we all know what happens in negotiations. The employees' representatives put forward, as strongly and forcibly as they can, what they consider the just demands of the men and women they represent, but at the end of the day they have often to accept something which they consider to be much less than their just demands. The matter then comes forward to the House, and we are told that there has been agreement.

I endorse everything that my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) said about the English Regulations and I wish to raise just one further matter. These Regulations do not make it automatic that after 1st April every widow will get the increased pensions which are detailed in the Regulations. If those already serving as police officers or constables wish their widows to get the full pension as outlined they must pay not only the 6¼ per cent. as against the present 5 per cent., but they must also make payment of back contributions, which in some instances might be considerable.

Page 9 of the Regulations includes a table covering from one completed year of service to 20 years of completed service. The man who by 1st April will have completed 20 years' service must pay, over and above the 6¼ per cent. contribution, 4.1 of the rate expressed as a percentage of pensionable pay. I know, also, that the Regulations provide for those already in the service to opt out of the increased pension. If they desire to continue only with the 5 per cent., their widows will receive the present very inadequate pension. Surely, when the pensions were being discussed it would have been sensible and just to decide that after 1st April, provided that 6¼ per cent. was paid, every widow would have the full pension that the Regulations provide.

Like my hon. and right hon. Friends, I hope that these Regulations are not the last word and that serious consideration will be given to making provision to give to every widow the full pension without the added contribution that must be paid by those already serving in the police. That is a just request and I make it because in the areas where there is a grave shortage of personnel it might be one way of showing to those whom we desire to attract that in the service the greatest thought is given not only to the man who renders such valuable and fine service for the community, but that the greatest consideration is given to his widow.

Although I cannot expect the Solicitor-General for Scotland to give an undertaking tonight, I hope that the point I have made will be seriously considered by the Police Council and particularly by the police authorities in Scotland.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

By leave of the House, I should like to reply to the point raised by the hon. Lady. As she knows, regulations are never final. They are not made in perpetuity and I assure her that the point she has made will be kept in mind. I think that the hon. Lady will realise that this is a problem which crops up every time there is a change in the pension scheme. The problem of what to do with the new entrants is whether we give a gift to those who have been in before the new scheme starts or whether they have to make some sort of contribution in relation to the back service during which they were not paying a full contribution. I assure the hon. Lady that the point will be kept in mind.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Draft Police Pensions (Scotland) Regulations, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd February, be approved.