HC Deb 10 December 1959 vol 615 cc883-95

10.12 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

I beg to move. That the Police Pensions Regulations, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 2nd December, be approved. These Regulations are made under the Police Act, 1948, and an affirmative Resolution is required. They are a necessary and fortunate result of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1959, passed during the last Parliament. They deal only with the pensions of police widows and the allowances of the children of deceased police officers. The pensions of retired police officers themselves were dealt with directly under the Act. I apologise to the House for the fantastic complexity of the Regulations, but having looked at the previous Regulations, I find that they were, if anything, even worse. I will do my best to simplify the matter, because the effect of these Regulations is fairly straightforward.

They have two objects. The first relates to what are known as graduated widows' pensions, and the second object relates to what are known as flat-rate pensions for widows. In the case of the graduated pensions— those which are related to the amount of a deceased officer's pay, either at the time he retired or, if he died while still in duty, at the time of his death before retirement—the Regulations ensure that the widows who receive these graduated pensions will get increases equivalent to, and on the same conditions as, similar pensions provided by the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1959. We achieve this by saying, in effect, that the awards shall be treated as though they had been specified in the Schedule to the Act.

The flat-rate pensions get a corresponding increase. We achieve this in a rather more simple way by substituting new actual rates of pension for the old ones but using as the method of doing so an increase which is appropriate under the Pensions (Increase) Act.

The Regulations have been the subject of consultation with the Police Council for England and Wales representing all federated ranks. Consultation is required by the Police Pensions Act, 1948. 1 am glad to say that the Regulations have been welcomed by a deputation from the National Association of Retired Police Officers, which called recently at the Home Office. They are drafted in such a way as to have effect retrospectively to 1st August last, which was the date on which the Pensions (Increase) Act came into force. There is, therefore, a complete tie-up there. It is our hope that if Parliament approves the Regulations my right hon. Friend will be able to make them before Christmas, so that payments on the basis of the new increases can be started in the New Year.

By way of further explanation of the contents of these very complicated and rather long Regulations, I should point out that they are divided into three parts. The reason is that existing police widows—I am not referring to future widows—receive their pensions under three different kinds of authority contained in three separate sets of Police Pensions Regulations and amending Regulations. Therefore, what we must do in the Regulations now before us is to amend each of those three sets of Regulations in such a way as to carry into them the increases which we want to bring about as a result of the Pensions (Increase) Act.

Part I of the Regulations amends the Police Pensions Regulations, 1955. We go backwards in time from that date since Part II amends the Regulations of 1949 and Part III amends the Regulations of 1948. The reasons for going backwards in time are so devious—and I have tried hard to understand them—that I will not trouble the House with them, but I am assured that it was the simplest way of drafting. The Pensions (Increase) Act provided a graduated scale under which the increase is smaller the more recently the pension first became payable. That factor governed the way in which the increases in the graduated pensions have been made in these Regulations.

The amount of introductory description which one could lay before the House to explain the effect of the Regulations is almost unlimited, but I think that the best thing to do is this. I shall listen to the points which hon. Members may wish to make and try to answer the questions of hon. Members if the House will give me leave to speak again.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

I am not sure whether the two sets of Regulations are being taken together.

Mr. Renton

As on the previous occasion when Police Regulations were before the House, I think that it would be convenient if both Statutory Instruments were discussed together, although you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may find it necessary to put each to the vote separately afterwards.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has given us a very full and detailed explanation of these Regulations. Speaking for my right hon. and hon. Friends, I can say that we welcome their introduction and we are glad that the Government have lost no time in placing them before the House. I will briefly summarise their effect, as I understand it. The Pensions (Increase) Act, 1959, provided a pensions increase for police pensioners and a limited class of police widows. The majority of the police widows and the orphaned children of police officers were not covered by the Act itself, owing to technical difficulties in drafting. These Regulations, therefore, seek to provide for the widows and the children who were omitted from the scope of the 1959 Act and to give them the appropriate increases in pension.

As the Joint Under-Secretary said, the amounts contained in the Regulations are the result of consultations which have taken place. I think that it is universally desired in the House to see that the police are adequately compensated and that proper provision is made for the police force and for their widows, and that adequate pensions are provided. I am also glad to observe that the Govenment have taken advantage of the Section of the 1959 Act which gave them power to give these Regulations retrospective effect. Consequently, they will have retrospective effect to 1st August, 1959, which is the earliest permissible date under the Act. We therefore heartily endorse these Regulations and hope that the House will approve them.

10.22 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I, also, welcome the Regulations, but I hope that the House will permit me to try to clear up one point. The Scots had a great evening the evening before last, the Welsh had a great evening last evening, and perhaps it is not inappropriate or out of place that an Englishwoman should have a chance to say a word or two tonight.

I am very glad to know that the Regulations are welcomed by both sides of the House and that they have the support of the National Association of Retired Police Officers. As the House is perhaps not unaware, I am particularly interested in widows and those who live on small incomes. Therefore, I am always in touch with the organisations which look after the interests of retired people and widows and dependants. I had some correspondence with the National Association of Retired Police Officers on which I took certain action with my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary. He kindly acknowledged the representations I made on behalf of the Association and said that the Home Office was aware of the point that the Association was making about the original draft Regulations.

Subsequently, when it was announced that the Regulations were to be presented, I wrote to the Association and I had a very pleasant reply, in the course of which a representative of the Executive Committee said: It is very gratifying to learn of the proposals which are now to be embodied in the draft Regulations for increase in Police Widows Pensions. He went on to say that the draft Regulations "now" had the support of the Association. I want to know, entirely for my own purposes, whether the original proposals proved to be unacceptable, or whether it was because of the difficulty of drafting that the new Regulations held fire. Did the Home Office put forward proposals which were less acceptable than those now before us?

I have asked that because, like many hon. Members, I feel that those living on small fixed incomes do not have enough support in the country to make their mark when dealing with heads of Government Departments. Perhaps it is because I live just on one side of the Border—I like to say the right side of the Border, but that will be unacceptable to my Scots friends—and because I have a very canny mind—Newcastle is often called a "canny toon"—that I am anxious that we should do more to meet the claims of those who live on small fixed incomes.

What were the original difficulties when the Association wrote to me in some consternation, and what happened for the Association to he able to write to me later saying that its objections had been overcome and that it supported the present proposals? I always believed in the maximum and not in the minimum. I am not a "minimum" woman; I am a "maximum" woman. I think that it is a good idea to have this matter on the record. I hope that from the start the Home Office was prepared to do the maximum for these widows.

Although I welcome these proposals, I do not think that they are very generous. I am rather sorry that I am not on the Police Council, because I should have been more firm. The increases are not as satisfactory as all that, but I always hope that we will be able to bump up the pensions of those who have served the country loyally and well and, also, that we will meet the election pledges in our manifesto when we said that we would enable such people to share in the general prosperity which the rest of the country enjoys.

I should be grateful if my hon. and learned Friend could explain the difficulty. I hope that it was a difficulty in drafting and that the Home Office did not first offer a minimum and then get pushed into the maximum.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

I am very glad that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) raised that point, because I may be under some misapprehension about the intention of the draft Regulations. Like her, I had a letter from the National Association of Retired Police Officers and I understood from what was then written to me that the promise given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when we were discussing the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1959, had not been implemented.

The Minister said that he wished to do everything he could for civil servants, firemen, the police, and police widows. As I understand, widows were very scurvily treated in the first draft Regulations. Instead of getting the scale increase of up to 12 per cent. according to the period in which their husbands had retired, they were to receive only a flat 4 per cent. increase. I have the figures here and they are derisory. The first draft laid down that the figure of 39s. 3d. a week would be substituted for the figure of 37s. 9d. a week. That was an increase of a mere 4 per cent. There are other figures which I will not give unless I am asked to do so.

Look at the rates which were suggested for children. The figure of 11s. 4d. a week was to be altered to 11s. 9d. a week. Up to now the child allowance for an inspector's child has been 9s. ld. a week. It was proposed to increase that to 9s. 5d. a week. Concessions of that kind are an insult to those who should get a proper education. Obviously, they will not get anything like what the Chancellor promised.

I join the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth in pressing the Minister to say quite clearly whether the rates that I have quoted are to be paid, or whether a change of mind has occurred and they will get what the Chancellor promised during the passage of the Pensions (Increase) Bill in April.

10.33 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

I want to follow up the point that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) put so clearly, and which my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) reinforced.

Some of us who share the hon. Lady's interest in pensioners and people on fixed incomes met retired police officers about four weeks ago. They expressed their uneasiness about the Government's intentions with regard to these pensions. It is worth recording that retired police officers are not concerned only about their own pensions. A marked feature is their desire to look after the widows of their dead comrades.

When we met them they were uneasy lest the Home Office, in its draft, made proposals for increased pensions which were not equivalent to the most generous interpretation possible under the General (Pensions) Increase Act of this year. I share the hon. Lady's view that the general increases that we have given are not adequate. We want to be sure that the retired police officer will be treated as generously as possible under the principles which the Chancellor laid down in the Pensions (Increase) Act. I believe that that has now been done. I believe that retired police officers are now satisfied with the draft and I am very happy that that is so.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

I want to make three small points. The Regulations say that consultations took place with the Police Council. What was the attitude of the Council to these proposals? I welcome the proposals, but I do not think that they go far enough. Anyone who has had any connection with police administration knows that there is scarcely a police force in the country that does not have its own orphanage fund, its own child allowance fund, and does not to some extent rely on charity to augment the allowances given by these Regulations.

I am wondering whether the Minister has considered this aspect of the allowances. It would be interesting to know what was the attitude of the Council. We must not forget that the police officers who are serving at present will be retiring themselves at some time and that they are entitled to representation in this matter.

From time to time we learn with regret of the death of a police officer while on duty. I can recall the case of an excellent officer in my own county who died in tragic circumstances. His wife died immediately after him and the whole of the superannuation contributions were lost. If children are left in such circumstances one would think that a suitable arrangement should be made for them. I concede that such cases are exceptional, but children who may be involved are entitled to an adequate degree of social security.

When allowances are fixed at amounts like 8s. 7d., for example, or 15s. 4d., I wonder whether those responsible consider the work which is entailed in calcu- lating the allowances. There is a considerable amount of work involved in rounding off the odd pence and I wish to know whether, in future, it would be possible to make the allowances in round figures which would make administration easier.

Anything we can do to improve the conditions of service of policemen and policewomen and to assist their families will be welcomed. After a long association with police administration I am convinced that unless we provide good conditions of service we are not likely to attract suitable persons likely to enforce law and order in an impartial manner for the benefit of the country.

10.39 p.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

It was asked that the two sets of Regulations should be discussed together and I acquiesced in that course, hoping that, as has happened on previous occasions, they would be introduced by an English Minister and that a Scottish Minister would deal with any points that were raised. Perhaps the Ministers might consult together and come to some agreement about that.

I am pleased that a number of hon. Members have spoken about these Regulations. They are important and I am glad that they have been back-dated to 1st August as was promised. Every hon. Member who has spoken has referred to the original proposal.

That was, as the Ministers will he aware, a flat-rate 4 per cent. increase. It was really departing from the pledge given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when the Pensions Increase Bill was going through the House. There was a great deal of feeling in the matter, as the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) and other hon. Members have shown.

Representations were made at that stage to many hon. Members by the National Association of Retired Police Officers. It may have been because that Association wrote to hon. Members about the matter and put forward its case—it was a very good case indeed—the Government had second thoughts and decided that they would have to give these people what, in effect, the Chancellor had promised when the Bill was before the House. I, like other hon. Members who have spoken, feel that, although this is the highest increase that could be given in all categories under the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1959, if we look at all the categories in these Regulations there is no hon. Member who could be satisfied that they are adequate to deal with the needs of these people.

I understand that according to the Pensions (Increase) Act the highest increase has been given by the Government. That ought to make us realise that though the fight which was put up on the Bill was a correct fight, because we lost it these Regulations have given the highest amount that could be given. I hope that pressure will continue to be exerted from both sides of the House—I am not claiming all the credit for hon. Members on this side—in an attempt to give those people who are living on small pensions and small fixed incomes a better share of the prosperity which we in this country are supposed to be enjoying.

I wish to make what I think is an important suggestion to the Ministers. I understand that the Home Secretary is to set up a commission of inquiry on the police. I do not know what its terms of reference will be, but may I suggest that under them the commission will be enabled to examine the status and the pay of our policemen and policewomen because, of course, pensions always depend on what is earned while a person is working? If one can ensure a higher status and better financial rewards for the police, then perhaps those who are occupying these benches in the future will not continually have to exert pressure for better pensions for the police and particularly for their widows and children.

Like other hon. Members, I welcome these Regulations. As I have said before, the highest payments that can be made in the circumstances are being made, but I hope that the Home Secretary will consider very carefully the terms of reference of the commission.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

On a point of order. I was hoping, Mr. Speaker, that we were to hear from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. It is customary on occasions when we are taking together Regulations affecting England and Scotland for an announcement to that effect to be made as the start of the debate. In this case it was made at the end of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech and we are still waiting to hear from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Speaker

I had the disadvantage to be absent from the Chair when the question of discussing the two sets of Regulations together was raised. I think that, strictly, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department can only speak again with the leave of the House. No. That is not so, for this is a substantive Motion. Therefore, I fear that that is not a point of order for me. I cannot compel the hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to speak.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Renton

When Mr. Deputy-Speaker was in the Chair, he asked whether it was intended that the Regulations should be taken together and I suggested, subject to his Ruling, of course, that they should be taken together and mentioned that it might be necessary for me to ask the leave of the House to speak again. Whether that was necessary or not, I did comply with the suggestion of the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) and conferred with my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland as to who should reply to the debate. It so happens that the Scottish and the English Regulations are in identical terms, and I hope it may be thought convenient that I should reply to this debate.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and the hon. Lady for the welcoming tones in which they have accepted these Regulations on behalf of the Opposition. As to the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall), who described the amounts as derisory, I hope to be able to assure him that the increases are the maximum which could have been made under the Pensions (Increase) Act.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I do not want to give the hon. and learned Gentleman a lot of work—I can understand what he is about to say and I am grateful to him for offering to say it—but the point I was trying to make was that the figures in the original draft were derisory and I asked why they were there at all in view of the promise given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Renton

In reply to the right hon. Member, these are the only draft Regulations winch have been laid before the House, and, in politics, one should be grateful for ultimate mercies. The right hon. Member is quite right in saying that in the course of negotiations certain things w ere pointed out. It was pointed out, for example, that if we applied very strictly to some of the older widows—if I may so describe them—what was the appropriate rate of increase in flat-rate pensions under the 1959 Act, we would create certain anomalies and, with the anomalies, certain injustices. Therefore, in order to put the matter beyond any doubt at all, we chose the most generous way possible of increasing these flat-rate pensions.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

The most just, not the most generous.

Mr. Renton

Not only the most just. but it was also generous, because this matter has a history going back to 1921. Various attempts were made by various Governments and by Parliament to improve the position of these police widows and the matter has become very complicated as a result. We found that whatever increase was applied there were bound to be some anomalies somewhere in some hypothetical case that could be quoted. We thought, therefore, that not only the most just but the most generous thing to do was to choose in these particular circumstances that rate of increase which could give cause for the least complaint, in other words, the maximum rate of increase. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) described herself as a "maximum woman." I hope that on this occasion she can for once give to the Government of which she is such a welcome supporter the maximum appreciation

I was about to say a few moments ago to the right hon. Member for Colne Valley with regard to his comment—and I still say it in spite of his intervention—that I think it important to bear in mind when thinking of the quantum both of the flat rates and the increases which have taken place and the quantum of the graduated pensions and all their increases, that both the widows and the children who benefit under these Regulations will also get such pensions as they are entitled to under the National Insurance Act and the children, so long as they remain eligible, will also get Family Allowances. It is in that light that we have to regard the quantum of these Regulations.

I hope that, however obliquely, I have covered all the points which have been raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey), however, asked me the straight question: What did the Police Council say in the consultations? The consultations are confidential, and that is one of their purposes. All I can say is that the Police Council approve of these Regulations, and I am very glad that they do.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Will the Minister convey to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the representations which have been made that the Committee which the Home Secretary is setting up to inquire into the relations between the police and the public and the status of the police should be given terms of reference sufficiently wide to enable it to review not only the rates of pay but also the pensions of the police force?

Mr. Renton

Naturally, my right hon. Friend will bear in mind what the hon. Member said, but I did not mention this matter, Mr. Speaker, because I did not wish to incur your displeasure by going into what has been said.

Mr. Callaghan

In view of what the hon. and learned Member said about the complexity of the Regulations, may ask whether there is any prospect of the Home Office beginning to consider the consolidation of Police Pension Regulations? Those of us who have to try to find our way through them are well aware of their complexity. I do not pretend that I thoroughly understand every Regulation, although I am sure that the Joint Under-Secretary of State does.

Mr. Renton

A start has been made upon that gigantic operation. We have it very much in mind. The difficulty is that the logical way would be to consolidate them in more than one set of Regulations so that the widows and children, on the one hand, and the police officers themselves, on the other hand, are not all mixed up in the same Regulation, which would make it very complicated. At the moment, we are working on a Regulation for the police officers. I am grateful to the hon. Member for his suggestion, and I will bear it in mind.

Mr. Callaghan

Will it later be brought to the Police Federation?

Mr. Renton

I think that would go without saying.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Police Pensions Regulations, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 2nd December, be approved.

Police Pensions (Scotland) Regulations, 1959, [draft laid before the House, 2nd December], approved.—[Mr. N. Macpherson.]

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