HC Deb 28 March 1956 vol 550 cc2284-92

Further Amendments made: In page 6, line 30, leave out "appointed day" and insert "passing of this Act."

In line 34, leave out "that day" and insert "the passing of this Act."

In page 7, line 3, leave out "appointed day" and insert "passing of this Act."

In line 28, leave out "on or after the appointed day" and insert: after the passing of this Act".—[Mr. H. Brooke.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy-Chairman

The Question is—

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

On a point of guidance, Sir Rhys. Before you put the Question, might I ask the Joint Under-Secretary whether he has a statement to make on this Clause in view of the undertaking given in the Standing Committee that the position of the preOaksey widows would be reconsidered? If he has, I hope that it will be a favourable one.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

I am glad that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has raised this point. With hon. Friends of mine, she took a prominent part in the proceedings of the Standing Committee relating to this matter. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department undertook that he would have discussions with certain retired police pensioners who had sought an interview with him and whom he had promised to meet.

I understand from the pensioners that they met officers at the Home Office last week, when there were discussions between them, but I gather that no figures were discussed. It may be that the Joint Under-Secretary was waiting to tell the House what proposals he has in mind. Before we part with the Clause, we should like to hear what proposals he now has to make.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not need reminding, but I think that the Committee should be reminded, that in the Standing Committee there was a very strongly held view, which I think the Joint Under-Secretary accepted, that a certain class of these widows were entitled to something over and above the pensions that they are getting. If not "entitled" in law, they were at any rate, it was felt, entitled in equity. They are suffering great hardship. Most of them are over 60 years of age.

I should like to know whether the Joint Under-Secretary can tell us whether he finds it possible to meet the sentiment of the Committee and to make some concession to these widows of retired police officers.

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

If it is for the convenience of the Committee, I will take this opportunity to meet the requests made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) and the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan).

It is true that in Standing Committee I undertook to bring to the attention of my right hon. and gallant Friend the representations made by hon. Members on both sides on behalf of this group of pre-Oaksey widows. Having given that undertaking, I should like now to report progress, as it were, at this stage of the Bill's passage.

I think I can say that hon. Members in the Standing Committee accepted, in the light of the discussion that we had, that this group of police widows were not, in practice, in any less favourable position than other widows whose husbands had been unable to contribute to schemes introduced after their death or retirement. They asked me to bring two considerations to the attention of my right hon. and gallant Friend.

The first was that the position of these widows is not due to any feature of their husbands' occupational pension scheme, but to the position of the police in the field of State insurance before July, 1948. Theirs was the only public service whose members were outside the scope of the old Widows' and Orphans' Scheme, because they were the only public service to have a comprehensive scheme of widows' pensions. There is, therefore, no other public service whose widows are debarred from the benefit of State insurances because their husbands were precluded from membership of the old State scheme.

The second consideration was that before July, 1948, it had for many years been accepted as proper that, in view of the arduous conditions of service of the police and of the assistance which police officers receive from their wives in carrying out their duties, police authorities should provide widows' pensions which were more advantageous than those provided by the State. While steps were taken, in 1948, to ensure that the police widows were as well treated as other widows whose husbands had contributed to the old State scheme, they were no longer in the same favourable position which they had enjoyed before July, 1948, and which police widows whose husbands have died since July, 1948, have continued to enjoy.

It was the strongly expressed feeling the Committee that, in view of the special services rendered to the community by police officers and their wives, there was a special case for restoring this more favourable position. In accordance with the undertaking I made to the Committee, I have brought these representations to the attention of my right hon. and gallant Friend. The Committee will be aware that, since 1949, successive Secretaries of State have given the position of these widows most sympathetic consideration, but have hitherto felt that they would not be justified in according them more favourable treatment than other widows who are outside the scope of schemes introduced after their husbands' death or retirement.

My right hon. and gallant Friend recognises that there is strong feeling on both sides of the Committee that, notwithstanding the strict logic of the situation, there is a special case for singling out this group of police widows for exceptional treatment. He has, therefore, authorised me to say that regulations to give police widows the benefit of the present Bill will be placed before the House for approval in due course.

In these regulations, my right hon. and gallant Friend proposes to provide that where a police widow whose husband died before 5th July, 1948, at present qualifies for the equivalent of a National Insurance widow's pension in substitution for her basic pension as increased by the Pensions (Increase) Acts, she will in future qualify to receive a National Insurance widow's pension in addition to the basic pension as increased by the Pensions (Increase) Acts.

My right hon. and gallant Friend has felt that he should meet the wishes of the House of Commons in this matter, but I must make it clear that he has felt able to do so only because of the unique position of the police in the field of State insurance before July, 1948, and because he will be restoring to these widows the more favourable position which it was thought proper for police authorities to provide for the dependants of police officers before July, 1948, and which police widows still enjoy where their husbands have died since that date.

In meeting the view of the Committee that these widows should be granted this favourable treatment, my right hon. and gallant Friend is glad to pay his tribute to the services which they render, and their husbands rendered, to the community.

10.30 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

It is a privilege to be the first to catch your eye, Sir Rhys, after the Under-Secretary's announcement, because hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have pressed the issue of the pre-Oaksey widows for quite a long time, and the Minister's statement tonight has not only pleased all hon. Members who were on the Committee upstairs, but, I am certain, will also give pleasure, almost even more than to the widows, to the surviving old retired policemen of this country who, for the last four years, have fought the battle for the widows of their dead comrades. It is indeed a grand thing tonight to know that as a result of the fight that veteran policemen have made for quite a long time we have at last been able to persuade the Home Office to grant something towards what we think has been all the time a claim founded on justice.

Several Hon. Members


The Deputy-Chairman

Mr. Callaghan.

Dame Irene Ward


Mr. Callaghan

The hon. Lady got in first last time.

Dame Irene Ward

On my Amendment.

Mr. Callaghan

With great respect, as far as I know we are not discussing any Amendment at the present time.

Dame Irene Ward

We were in Standing Committee. The hon. Gentleman has made one speech.

Mr. Callaghan

I do not know why the hon. Lady should be so annoyed.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

She wants the credit.

Mr. Callaghan

The hon. Lady can have the credit. I give the hon. Lady credit for having raised the question time after time.

Dame Irene Ward

And my Government.

Mr. Callaghan

Do not try me too hard. The hon. Lady is rather a glutton for praise.

Dame Irene Ward

No, only my Government.

Mr. Callaghan

What I wish to say, Sir Rhys—and I promise you that I will from now on ignore the hon. Lady—is that I think the Joint Under-Secretary really has done a great deal in this matter for which the widows of these retired policemen will be extremely grateful to him. If that gets him into trouble with the Treasury, let me hasten to add that I think he has done his duty by the Treasury too, because, if I may say so, he started off by presenting a very blank face to us indeed and refused to concede anything. He did his job magnificently by the Treasury, but he was overcome by the power of the arguments that were advanced, and I think it does credit to his heart, and also to his forensic ability, that he has been able to convert both his right hon. and gallant Friend and the Treasury to his point of view.

May I ask the Joint Under-Secretary this? He said that these widows would be entitled to the National Insurance pension together with the old original police pension as amended by the Pensions (Increase) Acts of the past. The original pension, as I remember, was 11s. 6d. per week. I am not quite sure what the old Pensions (Increase) Acts brought that up to, but I have a feeling that it was about 14s., and I have also in my head the figure of 16s. 1d. on one of them. Is it 16s. 1d.? Could the hon. Gentleman tell us what will be the effect of this? If he could, then we could pass on, as soon as the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth has been able to say her piece.

Dame Irene Ward

I should like to thank my hon. Friend for having made this very happy arrangement arising out of the discussion we had in Standing Committee with my right hon. and gallant Friend. I will only repeat what I had the pleasure of saying during Question Time today, that I like Ministers who do not become static on precedents, and I am glad to say that today my Government have had two Ministers who have not been static on precedents and have moved forward, as I see it, in implementation of the pledges given by my Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, he is my Prime Minister.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

On a point of order. Is it correct for the hon. Lady to refer to the Government and the Prime Minister of this country as hers? We had always understood that it was Her Majesty's Government.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Gentleman is quite correct; that is so.

Dame Irene Ward

It still happens to be my Prime Minister in Her Majesty's Government which I am supporting. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) made two speeches before I said a word, except to ask for guidance. I am glad to say that I feel that today we have had two Ministers of Her Majesty's Government who have not stood on precedent.

I repeat what I said; I take it that this is part of the implementation of the pledge given by the Prime Minister—my Prime Minister—and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—my Chancellor of the Exchequer—in relation to the people with small pensions. I am very grateful. We had a most interesting debate in the Standing Committee, and I pay a tribute to the National Retired Police Officers' Association for the long battle which it has fought. I am proud and glad that we have been able to do this.

After all, the difficulties were created by the Opposition, who introduced the Bill—or whatever it was—in 1948. We have been able to remedy the injustices, and I thank my Government for the action they have taken.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

I do not desire to join issue with the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). We do not want her Government or her Prime Minister.

Dame Irene Ward

You will not get them.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

The sooner we see a change of Prime Minister and of Government the better will my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee be pleased. Let me say how delighted we were to listen to the speech of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. When he began I felt sure he was going to turn us down.

Dame Irene Ward


Mr. Glenvil Hall

His lead-in was so long and his explanation of what he eventually agreed to do was so laboured that I felt he was leading up to an excuse for doing nothing. I was correspondingly delighted when, in the end, he came down on the right side. In fact, he reversed his performance in Committee, when he indicated that a great deal was going to be done and ended by indicating that little or nothing could be hoped for. Nevertheless, we are delighted at the excellent way in which the Joint Under-Secretary and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman have met the Committee.

My real reason for rising was to say that we do not accept for one moment the underlying note of what the Joint Under-Secretary said, that this was a precedent which must never be followed in future. We say that if a precedent is good we are willing to follow it and apply it at any time.

The Deputy-Chairman


Mr. Callaghan

I asked the Joint Under-Secretary to give us a figure. I think he was ready to do so, Sir Rhys.

Mr. Deedes

The hon. Gentleman asked for a figure, but he will appreciate that the regulations that will follow the Bill will contain the details. I am anxious not to go into detail now. However, I can give the hon. Gentleman the figure he asked for. The answer is 21s. 6d. per week, which is £56 a year, plus increases in the light of the present Bill.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.