HC Deb 21 March 1956 vol 550 cc1315-20

6.46 p.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

Before we give a Third Reading to the Consolidated Fund Bill, I wish to draw the attention of the House to a matter which concerns the police service, and to ask the House whether they will consider that the case I wish to make does not require further consideration by the Home Secretary.

I should like to preface my recital of the facts by saying that I have no desire at all to bring this matter before the House of Commons. In my view, all matters concerning pay and conditions of service in the police forces should be settled through the normal negotiating machinery which has recently been set up for them. It is the intention of the police themselves that they should settle these matters through those channels. I have been asked, however, to raise this matter this evening because the police feel that the proper channel of negotiation on this question of police pay has been blocked and that, accordingly, their only recourse is to bring the matter to the House.

The House will know that there was an increase in pay conceded to the police service following the arbitration tribunal award of December last. The Home Secretary brought in regulations on 16th December to give effect to that award. I ought to say that the arbitrators doubled the offer which had been made by the official side in the negotiations, an offer which had properly been rejected by the staff side; and, clearly, the view of the staff side was supported by the arbitration tribunal.

That last factor, if I may say so, is a count in this particular complaint that at no stage have the negotiations been conducted in accordance with modern ideas of negotiation which should have infiltrated through the mind even of the Home Office in 1955 and 1956. We regret very much that we had to go to arbitration. We were delighted with the result, because we thought that it did justice to the police service.

During the course of the hearing, it became clear that although this claim on behalf of the police had been put in in June, the hearing was taking place in November, and the arbitrators' award was to be made in December, the police could not have their claim back-dated earlier than to the date on which the Home Secretary made his regulations, that is to say, 16th December.

It was a remarkable thing—indeed, a very rare thing in my experience—that the official side at the hearing, contesting the claim of the police, expressed sympathy with the point of view, put forward on behalf of the staff side, that there should be a measure of restrospection for any new scales which the arbitrators might award. In fact, a date was mentioned by the official side during the course of the hearing. The official side spokesman said in the arbitration court that his side thought that any new scales which were awarded should take effect from 8th September. Because of the delay in getting the arbitration and making the regulations, the new scales did not take effect until 16th December.

In their award the arbitrators referred to this matter—they were independent arbitrators appointed by the Home Secretary—and said: The Official side, however, expressed their sympathy (which we share)"— that is, the arbitrators— towards some measure of retrospective operation being given to any increase of pay awarded, although they did not concede that 11th June, 1955, was the agreed date, even if retrospection was legally permissible. We are, therefore, faced with the position that after a long struggle the police were awarded scales of pay by arbitration far better than the official side was prepared to give. The police got the award after a delay of many months, after a statement by the official side that it thought that the delay was of such a nature that the scale should be backdated, after the arbitrators themselves said that in their view there might be some measure of retrospection—at any rate, that they had sympathy with it; I do not want to put the case too high.

Nevertheless, we are faced with a situation today in which these scales of pay have been fixed by reference to 16th December, and everything before that date has been completely ignored. I understand that in the Consolidated Fund Bill the Home Secretary could have made provision for money which would have met this retrospective claim. I want to know why the Home Office has not made provision for retrospective pay for the police force which, on all sides, has been conceded as justified; and I think that I have made my case about that.

We saw the Home Secretary, who received us very courteously indeed, and who expressed sympathy with our case. He was not the first Home Secretary to do so. Three years ago the then Home Secretary, formerly Sir David Maxwell Fyfe and now Lord Kilmuir, told the Police Federation that he, too, was sympathetic about the defect in the Police Act, 1919, which makes it impossible for retrospection to be given earlier than the operative date. Three years have gone by, and, although I am told that through Lord Kilmuir the Government at that time promised to introduce legislation, no legislation has been produced. In consequence this situation has arisen. We went to the Home Secretary—

Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

When the hon. Member says "we," who are "we"?

Mr. Callaghan

I thought I had made that clear at the beginning of my speech. I am speaking on behalf of the Police Federation, whose consultant I am in these matters, have made that clear on previous occasions. I think that the position is well known to the Home Office.

The present Home Secretary listened to us for about an hour. We put our case, against which no argument was produced. The response to that considered case was a letter from an undersecretary in the Home Office which was dated 9th March, 1956. The substance was this: The Secretary of State has carefully considered the view expressed by the deputation, but he has reached the conclusion that it would not be possible to give retrospective effect to the December award. That was all we got.

There was no attempt to argue the case, no attempt to say that the representations would be considered, or that they could not be considered because of a, b, c, d, or e, no attempt to say that we should have made the case in another way. There was a blank standing on authority which made a mockery of negotiations. There is a very strong feeling in the Police Federation that, having introduced this machinery, the Home Secretary really ought to take the police into his confidence and explain why it is not possible to do this. We hold the view that it is possible to do it in the Consolidated Fund Bill, which presents the very opportunity for meeting this particular claim.

We therefore put two considerations to the Home Secretary. First, why has it not been possible to meet this claim when the Home Secretary has at his disposal the machinery of the Consolidated Fund Bill? Secondly, will the Home Secretary ask his officers to conduct future negotiations as though they were negotiations and not just statements handed down from on high. When reasonable cases are put forward, people expect reasonable arguments in return.

We now propose to take the matter further. We intend to ask the independent arbitrators to consider this particular dispute. Can we have an assurance from the Home Secretary that if, in their turn, the arbitrators translate the sympathy they expressed into positive recommendation, for which we shall now ask, he will, in the next Consolidated Fund Bill, which will come forward in July, ask for the sum of money required to meet any claim conceded by the arbitrators?

That is the case which I have put shortly and succinctly. There is very much more I should like to say. It is known to all my hon. Friends that, in all industrial negotiations, back-dating is conceded. Only a few classes, teachers, members of fire brigades, the police, and a few others do not benefit from retrospection. The Police Federation asks that these facts should be made known to the House and that the obscurantism of the Home Office can be made known so that hon. Members can form their own judgment.

6.59 p.m.

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

While by no means accepting the latter part of the remarks of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), I agree that the case resolves itself into two issues, whether the pay award to federated ranks of the police service on 15th December could, by regulation or any other means, be made retrospective, and, whether provision to make such pay awards retrospective is desirable and our intentions on any such legislation as might be needed.

It is generally accepted, and I think that the hon. Member will concede it, that retrospection cannot properly be given by means of regulations. That has been done in the past in very isolated instances, but it has become the Government's view, and it was also the view of our predecessors, that Statutory Instruments should not be made with retrospective effect without expressed statutory provision.

That being so, alternatives have been canvassed. The most significant was the proposal of the hon. Member himself to give retrospective effect to the December award by the introduction of a Supplementary Estimate in advance of legislation. That is an issue which has been very thoroughly explored and I want to mention only one difficulty, but a particular one, about implementing it. Such a Supplementary Estimate could cover only the Exchequer share of the retrospective payment. It would not meet the problem of empowering police authorities to make the payment. I will not elaborate that point. Use of Section 228 of the Local Government Act, 1933, to indemnify police authorities would not meet the case.

Mr. Callaghan

If that is the case, why cannot there be adopted the procedure which is used for chief constables who get back pay because their own salaries are not covered by regulation, and in respect of whom the Home Secretary sends a circular to local authorities asking and advising them to make appropriate provision for those cases?

Mr. Deedes

It is done by omitting specific awards from regulations, but that could hardly be done generally for all ranks in the police.

On the occasion to which the hon. Member has referred, my right hon. and gallant Friend said that this was a matter affecting a much wider field than the police and the Home Office and he would have to consult his colleagues. He is doing that and we hope that that may lead to—

It being Seven o'clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business), further Proceeding stood postponed.