HC Deb 21 March 1956 vol 550 cc1403-24

11.21 p.m.

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

Perhaps I might just pick up the threads of the remarks I was making when we were interrupted at seven o'clock and bring the reply that I was making to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) to a close. I was referring to the question of legislation to enable future awards of this kind to have retrospective effect. As my right hon. Friend told the deputation in which the hon. Gentleman was, he is having discussion with his colleagues on the possibility of doing this; he said that he would do that, and that promise is being implemented. But the issue, as I was saying when we adjourned this business earlier, is a little wider than perhaps the hon. Gentleman realises.

We are all familiar with the arguments in favour of legislation to make these awards retrospective, and I need not rehearse them here, but there is this to be added. It does not concern the Home Office alone. The same question arises in relation to members of other services whose rates of pay are prescribed by Statutory Instruments. For instance, there are the firemen, the probation officers and the teachers. Indeed, it is possible that the Amendment might have repercussions over an even wider field. I do not want to exaggerate the possibility, but I do emphasise this, not in order to create difficulties, but to remove from the hon. Gentleman's mind any suggestion that we are being dilatory over this. What I have said indicates why my right hon. Friend cannot commit himself immediately on the subject of legislation. Others are concerned, and it must be discussed with them. It is being discussed. Beyond that I cannot go at this point.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

I am not raising the question of future legislation. I have not done so this evening, and it was not in my speech. The point I should like the Joint Under-Secretary to address himself to is: Why cannot the Home Secretary use the Consolidated Fund Bill as a means of meeting a retrospective pay claim for the award of last December? Let us leave the future on one side. Here we have a Consolidated Fund Bill which he is perfectly entitled to use for the purpose of meeting retrospective pay claims of this sort. If I may say so with respect, up to the point of interruption I do not think we have had a reply on that matter.

Mr. Deedes

I thought I had made it clear to the hon. Gentleman. The possibility of acting, short of legislation, had been explored very thoroughly, and in our opinion, in respect of his own particular proposal, it fell down over the difficulty of the local authorities, which I think he accepted.

Mr. Callaghan

No, I do not.

Mr. Deedes

Well, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have gone into this myself pretty thoroughly. I think there is substance in that, and I think it is substance which it is very difficult to gainsay.

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

Would the hon. Gentleman say whether the local authorities objected to the question of some arrangement being made in regard to retrospection on this issue? As far as I know the position—and I was deputy-chairman of the Liverpool Watch Committee—the point of view that we take is that we feel these negotiations that take place take place over far too long a period, and I am certain that my Watch Committee would be very, very anxious to meet the position of retrospective pay if some arrangement were made through the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. Deedes

That may well be. I am afraid that the point I made earlier remains, that there would be a very considerable chance of objection being made if the payments were made, and those objections could then be dealt with only under Section 228 of the Local Government Act, 1933.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

If there is a possibility of objection as a result of any legislation introduced under this Bill, what in fact is the position? If we are told that objections were received from this, that or the other authority, and the Home Office did not introduce it, that is another matter. If the Joint Under-Secretary cannot say that there have been objections, he has no argument.

Mr. Deedes

Until payments were made, whether there might or might not be objections is a hypothetical question. We are advised that cause for objection would lie. That is the risk to which police authorities would be exposed. That being so, the House should be so informed. I should not say that here was a likely solution. I am giving our view about the consequences which might flow from the hon. Member's suggestion.

Mr. Callaghan

It is important that the House should know all the facts. When the superintendents' pay claim was conceded last September, they were awarded back pay. That was done by means of a circular from the Home Office to the local authorities informing them that if they would back-date the pay, it was agreed that such expenditure as they incurred would rank for grant. What possible objection is there to doing for constables what has been done for superintendents and chief constables?

Mr. Deedes

I can see the hon. Member's point. It may well be that this would be done without objection. All I am saying is that cause for objection would lie. If that were so and the objection were made and we had said that so far as we could see police authorities could go forward on the lines suggested, I should have misled the House and the local authorities.

Mrs. Braddock

Supposing my local authority, for instance, intimated to the Home Office that on this matter it was prepared to meet its part of the financial responsibility for retrospective payment, what attitude would the Home Office take then? Would it say that in view of the fact that a large local authority was prepared to accept financial responsibility, the amount would rank for grant from the Home Office?

Mr. Deedes

No, I do not think that we would. In the light of what has emerged from going into this thoroughly with the Treasury and other Departments concerned, I do not think that we can accept that proposition.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Who might object? Is it the police authority, or is it a ratepayer or local government elector objecting at the local government audit? Who is the possible objector whom the hon. Gentleman has in mind?

Mr. Deedes

A ratepayer, where there are no public audit arrangements, or the auditor where those arrangements exist.

Mr. Ede

Did anyone in fact object when the pay of chief constables and superintendents was raised in the circumstances mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South-East (Mr. Callaghan)?

Mr. Deedes

Without consulting the record, I am not prepared to give an answer, because I am very anxious not to mislead the House. Whether or not objection was then made does not alter the position which would arise if the suggestion of the hon. Member for Cardiff. South-East were put into effect. It is quite wrong to change ground on that.

Mr. Callaghan

I thank the Joint Under-Secretary for giving way. He has been very good about it, and I am grateful to him. May I put a point without getting beyond the bounds of order? The Joint Under-Secretary has referred to the fact that the Home Secretary is considering legislation which would have the effect of making the issue clear beyond doubt in the future. If a ratepayer can take exception now, why would he not possibly take exception when legislation was introduced?

Mr. Deedes

I am not seeking to avoid further discussion on these grounds, but perhaps I could help the hon. Gentleman by telling him that they are not the only grounds which, in our opinion, make his proposal impracticable. There is another ground, and perhaps I had better relieve the mind of the hon. Gentleman by telling him what it is. The matter is complex, but I will try to be as lucid as I can.

I am advised that it would be possible to provide restrospective payment of grants in respect of the December award by introducing a Supplementary Estimate and incurring this expenditure on the authority of the Appropriation Act in anticipation of enabling legislation. But that may be done only if there is no other practicable way of achieving the same object. I am advised that there would be an alternative way of providing for the payment in the new legislation and deferring payment until it had been passed. Therefore it would seem that the use of the Appropriate Act might well be challenged unless it could be convincingly shown that the alternative was not practicable. The hon. Gentleman can give to that what weight he pleases, but it is an additional ground to those I have already mentioned in respect of local authorities.

The hon. Gentleman referred to a letter and complained of its abruptness. I am anxious that there shall be no bad blood about this. There are two ways of conveying an official decision of this kind. One is by a letter which is quite brief and unadorned, of which the letter referred to was an example. The second is by a more elaborate letter in which all the arguments are presented and which culminates in a decision. Both methods are used on different occasions from different offices. Both types of letter are couched in courteous terms, and this letter was no exception. No discourtesy was intended on this occasion, and if it has been attributed to the letter, I am sorry. It was not intended and I hope my words may remove any misunderstanding on the subject.

11.32 p.m.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)

I am delighted to have an opportunity of saying a word on this matter, as for some years I have been connected with the police force in Birmingham and a member of the watch committee of the city council. Anyone occupying such a position cannot fail to be impressed by the quality of the police forces of the country and the great difficulties besetting them at present. In these negotiations with the police where, quite properly, and I do not contest it, there is no sort of official trade union, it is important not only that justice should be done, but that it should be seen to be done. There is a great disparity between the treatment meeted out to high ranking officers in the matter of pay negotiations, particularly so far as the Home Office is concerned, and the treatment of the ordinary rankers in the forces.

I have never met anyone, whether a member of a watch committee, a chief constable, superintendent or anyone else who has tried to defend the indefensible as the Joint Under-Secretary is now attempting to do. It is important that recruiting for the police forces should be encouraged, and in Birmingham we have done all we can in that regard. The watch committee has spent much time in deciding how best to get recruits against the attraction of the high rates of pay offered in industry. One thing which will discourage recruiting is if people feel they are not getting a square deal over their pay. That is an important psychological point.

I have the circular which the Home Office sent out in respect of superintendents' pay, dated 27th September, 1955, and the relevant paragraph 3 states: The Secretary of State hopes that police authorities will give effect to the agreement of the Panel that the new scales should operate as from 8mb September, 1955. Additional expenditure thus incurred will, subject to audit, rank for police grant. It is quite clear that the Home Office is in an impossible position in having sent out a circular like this in respect of superintendents' pay and not having done the same thing for the ordinary constable. All local authorities that I know of, and certainly our members of the A.M.C., are only too delighted, because they think that the police have had a raw deal for years and they are anxious about the establishment of the police force and about maintaining law and order, especially in the large industrial cities where the crime wave is on the increase. They are anxious to see that justice is done. They were happy to receive the circular in respect of superintendents' pay, and they cannot understand why they cannot receive a similar circular indicating the same degree of magnanimity in respect of police constables.

I would draw the attention of the House to a copy which I have of the last eighteen awards from the Industrial Court and the last award from the Industrial Disputes Tribunal. These are nineteen awards in respect of many cases which went to arbitration, and if I read out one or two of these it will be seen that they are representative of a wide range of industry. They include the Radio Officers' Union and Marconi International Marine Company Ltd.; the Officers' Side of the Joint Negotiating Committee for Justices' Clerks Assistants and the Management Side of the same Committee; the National Federation of Building Trade Operatives; the Staff Association of Edinburgh College of Art; U.S.D.A.W. and Cable and Wireless Ltd.; the Nurses' and Midwives' Council of the Whitley Council for Health Services; the United Road Transport Workers Association. In every one of these cases retrospective pay has been awarded.

Why should the policeman on the beat, whom every chief constable in the country will say is the lynch-pin of the police force and of law and order, be singled out for this treatment? This treatment is not in accord with general industrial practice in this country. It is not in accord with what the Home Office has done in respect of other ranks, with what the local authorities award committees want, or with the views of any reasonable, intelligent person who concerns himself with industrial relations.

There is no case for the attitude of the Home Office, and I beg the Under-Secretary, even after the reply that he has given, in view of the weight of evidence which is against him, to reconsider this matter and to be a little more magnanimous and charitable to the constable on the beat of whom we are all proud. By adopting a reasonable attitude, the hon. Gentleman will enjoy greater confidence from them, and it will also be of the greatest help in assisting to build up our police forces whose strength, even with the latest increase, is still depleted.

11.40 p.m.

Mr. T. W. Jones (Merioneth)

It will be readily recognised that one of the most pleasing elements in the relationship between employers and employees during the past few years has been their readiness to submit disputes to arbitration. That should be encouraged, and one way of doing so is by proving the efficacy of arbitration in settling disputes and in securing complete justice between the parties. The two main elements of arbitration are, I think, confidence and speed. It is obvious that the disputants should have confidence in those who are to arbitrate, but of equal importance is a speedy result.

We often find that arbitrators cannot proceed as quickly as they would wish, but they are able to make up for loss of time by resorting to the principle of retrospection. Those who submit their cases to arbitration are aware of the prevalence of that practice, which is sound as regards justice and psychologically desirable. If there is one class which, more than any other, should enjoy the benefit of retrospection it is the police force. The police are the only employees who are not, by law, allowed to resort to strike action.

Mr. Ede

They have not even a trade union.

Mr. Jones

Others can resort to strike action, but not the police. They are compelled at all times to resort to arbitration and are, therefore, the very people who should enjoy all its benefits, including that of the retrospective award. We find, however, that no such payment can be made to them, even though the official side—the employers—and the arbitrators are ready to concede it on the merits of the case.

Let us consider what happened very recently. The police made a claim for an increase some time last June. Due to the failure of negotiations, the claim was submitted to arbitration in September. The arbitrators made their award in the middle of December of last year. The Home Secretary then lost no time in giving effect to the award. As a matter of fact, it took him only 48 hours, and for that he deserves every credit. It took the arbitrators three months to make known their decision, but the justice of the police claim—first made not three, but six months previously—was proved by the award, and both the official side and the arbitrators agreed that retrospective payment would be fully justified. Unfortunately, it was not legally possible.

Our plea tonight is that the Minister should make it possible, and ways and means have been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). I am afraid that on this issue the Home Office is proving very niggardly indeed. As has been pointed out, we are very proud of our police force and what would make it a still better force would be to make it a contented one. While these people feel that they have been robbed of part of the value of the award of the arbitrator they cannot feel very contented.

With my hon. Friends I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision and not to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar. The whole effect of the award is being spoiled by the niggardly manner in which the request for retrospection is being treated. Even if the retrospection does not go as far as June it should go to September.

11.46 p.m.

Mr. Charles Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

I am glad of the opportunity of supporting hon. Friends and I intend to be brief in my remarks, despite the fact that an hon. Member on the Government Front Bench said that we had plenty of time and then skipped out.

Mr. Ede

I have plenty of time; my train does not leave until 5.16.

Mr. Howell

The hon. Member who said that we had plenty of time immediately skipped out of the Chamber and has not come back again.

I want to emphasise a point which has not yet been made in regard to this negotiation. The superintendents, through their Police Federation, accepted the offer and the reason why the other part of the case went to arbitration was because it was regarded as totally inadequate. Whilst it is true that the police, as is expected of them, show a high moral attitude, the Government should also adopt the same moral standard in applying the increase to the other section of the force. If there was a need for an increase in salaries and it became effective for superintendents in September, obviously it should be effective for the other section of the force which felt aggrieved and took the matter to arbitration, from the same date. Police constables and sergeants should have the claim back-dated to the same date as superintendents.

It seems significant that the award to the superintendents was made retrospective. Otherwise, the superintendents would have said that they would in future go to arbitration. I should like the Joint Under Secretary to tell us how many men who were disgruntled left the force in the period between the time when the claim was made and the finding of the arbitration tribunal. I know from personal experience that a number left in that period and that they are leaving even now. Some inducement is necessary to keep men in the force.

For some years my hon. Friend the Member for All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) and I served on a watch committee. We know the value and the difficulties of the police. I say there is no more valuable force than the police force. There is not the discipline in the Army that there is in the police force. If a policeman is seen by an inspector speaking to someone in the street, and the inspector thinks he is not performing his duty, the policeman is "skinned" as a "fizzer" for gossiping. If the constable does not tell people what they want to know, they can go to the station and complain that he was not helpful. We know that that does not happen, and in proof of it every American actress who lands on our shores says, "Aren't your policemen wonderful?"

I hope that the Government realise that they can do something wonderful for a wonderful force by sending to the watch committees a letter in terms identical with those of the letter sent in respect of superintendents. I congratulate them on saying in that case that there should be a back-dating. Let them not weaken in the second part of the same negotiations. Let them say that the same date must apply to police constables. I hope that the Under-Secretary will do that and so gain the approbation of everyone on this side of the House.

11.51 p.m.

Mr. Harry Randall (Gateshead, West)

I make no apology for detaining the House at this late hour because, like my hon. Friends, I am convinced that an obvious injustice is being perpetrated upon our police constables. It is very desirable, therefore, that the House and the Under-Secretary of State should listen carefully to the very considered views which are being advanced from this side of the House and see whether it is not possible, even now, to right this injustice.

It is quite right that the problem facing trade unions in the matter of arbitration should be placed before the House. The problem of retaining faith in arbitration tribunals is a very serious one. The more often there are incidents which indicate that there is an undermining of the workers' faith in the arbitration courts, the more we shall encourage workers to think in terms of action in another direction. I am not suggesting that our police force is thinking in those terms, but those of us who are anxious that the two sides of industry should gat together and, if necessary, go to arbitration and argue the case out, are concerned that the arbitration courts should retain the confidence of the people and so accelerate their work.

I should have liked to have addressed the House at length on this subject because there are a number of substantial points to be made. We, on this side of the House, believe that this matter could have been dealt with by means of a Supplementary Estimate. It is a pertinent point that the official side, which includes representatives of the local authorities, expressed its desire at the arbitration court in 1955 that there should be retrospective payment. If that is so, why the hesitancy on the part of the Home Office to apply that retrospection? I do not believe that there is a stony heart there, and the purpose of the debate is to discover whether it is possible to have something done.

It ought to have been done because prior to 1946 it was permissible. If that is so, and if it was only because of the interpretation of the Law Officers that it has not been applied since, I claim that it ought to have been done in the light of what was the practice before 1946. It ought also to have been done because of the sympathy expressed by a number of people. The then Home Secretary, three years ago—Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, as he then was—said he was prepared to introduce legislation to deal with the matter. We have heard nothing more. Then there were the comments of the official side in 1955. There were the comments of the arbitration court, which was in sympathy with the claim for the police officers. These grounds were good reasons for something being done.

Broadly speaking, in industry backdating is not unusual when there have been long negotiations. It is good because it retains faith in the arbitration courts. Let me quickly give a few examples. In 1951, a number of Post Office grades went to arbitration. That was on 16th May, 1951. There was back-dating of these claims to 1st January, 1951. In 1954 there was a series of Post Office claims. The last claim was heard on 13th July, 1954. Backdating was given to March, 1954. Certain officers of the Metropolitan Water Board went to arbitration on 15th December, 1955, and there was back-dating to 1st May, 1955, for some of the supervisory grades, and to 1st July for some of the other grades. That was although the arbitration was given on the 15th December, 1955.

Another instance is the recent prison officers' award. The claim was lodged in September, 1955. It was settled in March, 1956. The Prison Commissioners offered back-dating to 1st January. The staff side claimed that the date ought to be 1st October, 1955. The settlement was for 1st November, 1955. The settlement was reached in March, 1956, and there was back-dating to 1st November, 1955. If it can be done for prison officers, we and the Home Secretary cannot complain if police constables also expect retrospection.

The police suffer a special hardship, like the Civil Service. Their pay does not keep pace with the pay rises in industry and rises in prices. There is always a time lag. Pay rises in the Civil Service and the police have to wait until there is a general movement of wages in outside industry. That is a further argument for retrospection, which would put right a serious disability. Those of us who have watched pay increases during the last four or five years have noted that there is almost an annual pay increase in most industries.

What has happened in the case of police officers? They had one increase in July, 1949, and had to wait two years for the next one, until July, 1951. Their next was in January, 1954, nearly three years later. Now there is the award of December, 1955, for which they waited another two years. They have, therefore, a second disability. They must always wait for the wage cycle to move in outside industry before they can do anything. They are in this position because of the absence of any union to negotiate on their behalf.

There is a sound case for the Under-Secretary to go back to the Home Office and see whether something cannot be done. It ought to be possible to do something. The fact of withholding retrospection in this way has its effect upon pensions and loss of pension rights. Is it not possible for the Home Office to do something?

12.1 a.m.

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

I have two matters to raise. I listened carefully to what the Under-Secretary said about legislation being required to deal with this matter. In view of his comments that for chief constables and chief superintendents legislation was not necessary, and of the comments which have been made by the Home Office generally, I take him to mean that the Government will in the very near future introduce the necessary legislation to effect retrospection for inspectors, sergeants and constables. If so, I hope the hon. Gentleman will ask his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to state the position clearly.

It is very necessary in the police forces that there should not appear to be any question of privilege, or that if a man happens to be a chief constable or chief superintendent something different will be done for him from what can be done for inspectors, sergeants and constables. The question has caused great discussion and concern in the police forces because they have been left out completely. It is all very well to make promises, but, unfortunately, constables and sergeants cannot live on promises. What I and my watch committee are anxious to know is whether, arising from the Under-Secretary's comments, it is the Government's intention almost immediately to bring forward legislation to enable the lower ranks to be paid retrospectively.

What would have happened in the case of chief constables and chief superintendents had all ranks agreed to accept the award? Would the Home Office have sent to all watch committees and police authorities a notice that if they were prepared to pay the full amount it would rank for grant; or would the Home Office have drawn a distinction and said that if the watch committees would pay the chief constables and chief superintendents the retrospective payment would rank for grant, but that something different must be done for inspectors, sergeants and constables?

This is a very important matter. When I interjected during the Under-Secretary's remarks, it was to discover how many watch committees or police authorities the Home Office consider would have refused to make the retrospective payments had they been asked to do so. In an area like mine where we are just over 500 short of establishment, where it is very difficult indeed to recruit to the police force and where the standards required for recruitment are high to begin with, it makes it very difficult indeed if there is any suggestion of privilege for the higher ranks which is not available to the lower ranks.

I ask the Under-Secretary to confirm that his comments tonight about legislation mean that the Home Office has now definitely decided that the matter is of such importance that it intends to bring forward legislation to enable retrospective pay to be paid to the lower ranks of the police force.

12.6 a.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

will at once declare my interest in this matter in that I have relatives and friends in the police force, and that anything that is done on this question of retrospective pay will benefit them. I make that point because, when this award was made, the first thing said by its beneficiaries was that this case had been handled extremely well. They thought that the Federation's case had been put over very ably by the appropriate body.

I was then asked what chance there was of the award being back-dated. I understood that to do that needed a regulation from the Home Office. It would appear, however, that no such regulation is needed in the case of chief constables, but only for the other ranks. The reason why regulations are needed is because some local authorities might possibly want to contract out in the case of chief constables.

Therefore, the point put by both my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) and myself to the Under-Secretary was a valid point. If the Under-Secretary had got up and said that the Home Office had received objections from the committee representing the boroughs and that opposition from them was anticipated, that would have been a valid point.

The truth is that the Home Office did not attempt to find out. I do not know why it did not go into the question of making the award retrospective, thus letting the police feel that the Home Office was really concerned about their conditions. This has caused a great deal of concern, not only in regard to this claim but in regard to future claims also.

We know that the police have no trade union to represent them. Many people serving in the police force feel that it is a rather disgraceful business that in the year 1956 the police have no official trade union. It is strongly held that the time may come when something will have to be done about it. The police are not encouraged if the Home Office does not try to meet what is, after all, a very genuine complaint.

I wish to ask the Under-Secretary what would be the position if, in fact, the Federation now go to arbitration on this matter of retrospection and wins its case? In that event, the Home Office would be in a spot, would it not? Why does not the Under-Secretary show a little anticipation in the matter and say, "We will avoid that hurdle; we will do it straight away"?

I am very surprised that not a single Conservative Member has risen to support this plea. This debate will be read by many members of the police forces. A little prodding from the Tory back benches would be helpful. I know that hon. Members opposite are as anxious as we are—and I will put that on record so that it shall not be said that this is a party point—to see that the police get decent wages and conditions. The fact is that not a single hon. Member opposite got up to support the claim of retrospection. I do not believe that those on the benches opposite know anything about the matter.

The Under-Secretary must realise that if there is a genuine grievance he will have to have some ideas about the matter. If the policeman's claim is right and justified, the Home Office must show some initiative. Everyone has been talking about the police constable, and in view of the fact that I have a brother who is a sergeant in the police, it is my view, quite frankly, that their case is so good that it ought to be conceded straight away.

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) very nearly put the Under-Secretary in a great difficulty, because as far as the Metropolitan Police are concerned he does not need to make an order. The Metropolitan Police are servants of the Home Secretary; they are in exactly the same position as the postmen, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall) alluded. The difficulty that arises with a very limited number of people is that they are nominally employed by local authorities but that a very substantial part of their salaries depends upon Government grants: the police 50 per cent., teachers 60 per cent., and firemen 25 per cent.; I am not quite sure what the percentage is for probation officers.

Those people suffer this disability merely because they are local government employees, although half or more of their salaries depends upon a Government grant and the actual amount that is paid depends upon orders made by the Ministers for the Departments concerned. Therefore, as far as the Metropolitan Police are concerned, if "Barkis is willin' "the marriage can take place. I hope it will not be forgotten that if there is this difficulty that some local police authority somewhere in the remote parts of Great Britain might object, if the Home Secretary gave them a friendly lead they would look rather shabbier than they would in any event.

This problem of police pay is one that has given a great deal of concern since 1919. In 1919, there was a police strike; it affected the Metropolitan Police and it affected Liverpool. Liverpool has never recovered in the arrangements for the police from what happened then, because they had to recruit a large number of new men to take the place of the strikers and they all retired about the same time, twenty-five or thirty years afterwards, so that now they are back in the old trouble.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), whose figures I am quite sure we can accept, says that they are still 500 under strength, and it all dates back to that particular problem. As a result of it, it was enacted that the police should not be allowed to join a trade union, but one of the Acts—I forget whether it was the 1919 or the 1921 Act—established the Federation, and every police officer up to the rank of inspector is a member of the Federation. The policemen came to me and said they would not have anything to do with the women because the Act referred to "policemen."

I told the Permanent Under-Secretary to fetch me the Act, in which one does not find anything about "policemen"; sometimes they are "officers," sometimes they are "constables," but both are words of common gender, and every person in the police force up to the rank of inspector is a member of the Federation. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) is the consultant to the Federation, so he informs us today. I hope that he gets the same pay as consultants do in the medical profession.

When I was Home Secretary, I had several of these difficulties and the first was solved by what was called the Oaksey Report. The words of the Under-Secretary tonight were very carefully chosen, and he made as good a case for the Department as could be made. But he allowed one word to slip out, "Treasury." The Treasury is the nigger in the woodpile and the hon. Gentleman shone the light on him only once, but it was just enough. When the Oaksey Report came the Treasury made little niggling objections: 6d. off the boot allowance and that kind of thing, so that there was never a feeling that the award was made graciously.

Ernest Bevin who, after all, knew something about trade unionism and the way to effect a settlement that removed all ill-feeling, said, "You cannot do this to these men who have no trade union. You have a statutory machine by which to deal with them. You cannot expect to get satisfaction and content in the police forces, if, after they get an award, you start niggling."

What is the position here? The chief constables have had their award. There was a time when chief constables could not get pay increases out of the local authorities. I inquired what could be done to deal with the matter on their behalf and the Permanent Secretary said, "You can make an order against which there can be no Prayer. You can make the order and the Association of Municipal Corporations will say that it will not recommend payment to chief constables." I made the order and now local authorities accept the circulars. I wonder whether they would have done that if an order had never been made.

I want to deal with the subject apart from its relation to the Metropolitan Police where there is no difficulty, because the Home Secretary pays them and does not even have to make an order. He sends a note to the Receiver and says that from next pay day every constable will have £1,000 a year and they all get £20 a week.

Mr. Mellish

£19 5s.

Mr. Ede

This could be done even before the end of the financial year, if an order were made that for the year ending 31st March, 1956, pay calculated at a certain rate as from a certain date was to be paid in a lump sum between now and the end of the financial year. It is a little complicated to work out, but if a draftsman is given the job he will do it. It is astonishing what a draftsman can do once he is given instructions.

The police forces have been working under the very gravest difficulties. Shortage of men in the Metropolitan Police, in Birmingham, Liverpool and some of the other great industrial cities means that men have to put in hours out of all proportion to what they should work. That makes their wives very discontented and more men are lost to the police forces through having their wives discontented than through any other reason.

Whether as a result of consultation or not I do not know—I rather suspect that it had something to do with it—but they have managed to get the impression from the arbitrators, from the local authorities, that they would like to see back-dating in this case. Let us realise what happens if there is not back-dating. It means that people have to negotiate in a hurry and that is the problem. The result is that the moment an objection is raised by the employers, when there is to be no back-dating, the employees say, "They are playing tricky." That is not a very good thing, if we expect to obtain a suitable settlement.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider the speeches which have been made and that he will persuade his Minister to go to the Treasury and point out the necessity of giving effect to this recommendation. Look at the astounding thing he did for the chief constables. He got back pay for them in two different financial years. The back pay between 1st January and 31st March was in one financial year of the local authorities which had already been closed and the accounts submitted for audit. If he can do that, I do not see why he should not make an equally strong appeal to any recalcitrant local authorities to do the same thing for the lower ranks in the forces. If there were no objections from ratepayers or local government auditors when he did it for the chief constables, why should he anticipate such objections if he does the same thing for the inspectors, sergeants and constables?

If there are objections, the remedy is in his own hands. Then, as a matter of emergency, he can legislate to deal with the particular problem. I think that the hon. Gentleman put up the best case possible, and I would say to some of my hon. Friends that it is no use blaming the Home Office. The Federation used to come to me to complain about the Home Office when I was Home Secretary. I explained that the person they had to deal with was the Home Secretary who was responsible for policy. I sometimes feel that my hon. Friends are a little unfair to the people at the Home Office who have to carry out a policy decided on by the Home Secretary. I am sure that the present Home Secretary would not wish to shelter behind a story that in some way the Home Office acts in contradiction to his wishes or does not properly advise him when these things have to be decided. When the Home Secretary reaches a decision, I am sure that every official in the Department will carry it out loyally and effectively.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that if he desires to address us again this morning hon. Members on this side of the House are unlikely to raise any objection, but we would like an assurance from him that he has listened to what we have said and that he will faithfully report it to his right hon. Friend. We hope that he will feel assured that the feeling on this matter is very deep and that we are sincere in our desire to see the recommendations of the arbitrators and all the employers, except the Home Office, implemented as soon as possible.

12.25 a.m.

Mr. Deedes

By the leave of the House, I should like to reply briefly to some of the things which have been said during the last hour or so. Perhaps I might begin by saying—I think this may get agreement on both sides of the House—that the best arguments are not improved by an interval of four hours in the middle of them. I got the impression during some of the speeches from the other side of the House that not all the remarks that I made, admittedly very hastily, just before seven o'clock had been heard or, if they had been heard, had been assimilated.

May I acknowledge gratefully what the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has just said about the Home Office, without accepting all the implications which he knows lies behind the remarks.

We have not been discussing the desirability of retrospective pay. We have been discussing its practicability in present circumstances. The first point that I would stress is that it is the pay increases made by regulations to which there is objection to giving retrospective effect. To take up one point that has been made, the superintendents' and chief constables' pay is not fixed by regulation.

Mr. Ede

It can be.

Mr. Deedes

It can be, but the position is different from that of the federated ranks, and a grant of retrospection is not, therefore, open to such a clear objection because it is not directly contrary to the regulations. I think I should add, since remarks have been made about favour to one side or the other, that generally speaking retrospection does not give a privilege to the chief constables and the superintendents over the other ranks. What usually happens—and I think the right hon. Gentleman will confirm this—is that the pay of the higher ranks is settled later than the lower ranks, and the new scale of the higher ranks is made retrospective to the date of increase for the lower ranks. That is what happened in 1954. Thus they all start equal.

There has been a suggestion that there is differentiation between the two categories, and that is not so.

Mr. Callaghan

One of my hon. Friends—I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr (Mr. C. Howell)—pointed out that in the case of the superintendents on this recent award they accepted an offer which was made retrospective to 7th September. As part of the same negotiations the constables', sergeants' and inspectors' award dates only from December, so that in this case the superintendents have ante-dated the other ranks by the same negotiations.

Mr. Deedes

I do not dispute the point, but I want to establish that there is not invariably a differentiation of privilege between the two ranks.

There is one other point to which I ought to refer. The hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) raised it when she spoke of the willingness of her watch committee to go forward with this matter and take any risks which might be entailed. I should make it clear, as the right hon. Gentleman did, that the difficulty about making retrospective payments in advance of legislation is not the possibility of objection by the police authorities who make the payments.

The difficulty is that they would be open to challenge by the district auditor or, in the case of an authority not subject to district audit, by the ratepayers, and then the risk of surcharge by the district auditor could only be obviated by Section 228 of the Local Government Act, with all that is entailed. I expect the hon. Lady knows that it is not intended to give blanket approval for this kind of thing. It is intended for the exceptional occurrence, such as a slip or an oversight by somebody.

The hon. Lady asked whether she could take it that legislation was definitely going to be introduced. Her interpretation of what I said must remain her own. It is not what I said. My right hon. Friend gave an undertaking that he would discuss the prospects of legislation with his colleagues. As I said earlier this evening, that is not a matter which he can decide alone. There are other Departments involved, for reasons I have mentioned—teachers, firemen, and so on, are on the same footing. These discussions are going forward, but because of the number of other people concerned my right hon. Friend cannot reach an immediate decision on his own account.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields twitted me with making one small slip, and I hope that he will take it in good part if I suggest that he, too, made a small slip in his remarks. He alluded—rather attractively I thought—to the suggestion of the lump sum payment made in the manner he described. That, I understand, is a suggestion which has been considered before, as may be within his recollection. It arose in 1948 in respect of some arrangement being made with the firemen. It was then concluded that it would be a rather colourable device to circumvent the view that regulations could not be made with retrospective effect. It may be that that incident has slipped his mind.

Mr. Ede

Oh, no—and I was not drafting it. The hon. Gentleman will realise that. I always left it to the draftsman, when I wanted to do something very difficult, to find a form of words that would hide what I was doing from everyone but myself—and, believe me, the draftsman never let me down.

Mr. Deedes

But I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that what appeared to be a colourable device in 1948 is a colourable device in 1956. I have certainly noted the observations which have been made, and so has my right hon. Friend, and I hope that those who raised this subject will feel that they have had a satisfactory discussion. It is a matter the importance of which I do not under-rate.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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