HC Deb 22 March 1961 vol 637 cc533-9

11.0 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Police Pensions (Amendment) Regulations, 1961, a draft of which was laid before this House on 16th March, be approved. The House will observe that the equivalent Scottish Regulations are in identical terms. I therefore suggest that it may be for the convenience of the House if both sets of Regulations are discussed together, although you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, at the end of the debate would no doubt put the Question on each separately.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

Yes, if that will be for the convenience of the House.

Mr. Renton

As the Explanatory Note states, the Regulations are made under Sections 1 and 3 of the Police Pensions Act, 1948, and they are similar in form to previous Police Pensions Regulations and Amendment Regulations dealing with widows' pensions and children's allowances.

The draft Regulations introduce no new principle. Their purpose is simply to make an increase in certain widows' and children's benefits payable under Police Regulations corresponding with those increases in National Insurance benefits of a similar kind which were made by the National Insurance Act, 1960. These special provisions have to be made for about 8,000 widows and children of policemen, because the police were excluded from the contributory old-age pension scheme which was in existence before the National Insurance schemes—which were of universal application—was introduced in 1948.

The proposal in the Regulations is that the increased benefits should come into operation on 3rd April at the same time as the new National Insurance benefits. The effect of the Regulations in the case of the widows and children affected is to give increases corresponding to the National Insurance increases. The result will be as follows. A widow will receive 80s. per week instead of the 70s. which she now receives over and above her basic police widow's pension for the first thirteen weeks of widowhood, and after the first thirteen weeks instead of receiving her present 50s. a week over and above the basic pension she will receive 57s. 6d.

As to the child's allowances, where both parents are dead it will be 32s. 6d. per week instead of 27s. 6d. For other children the children's allowances are increased by 5s. a week. The matter with regard to children's allowances is extremely complicated. There are various kinds of children's allowances, varying with various circumstances. In every case, however, the increase awarded by the Regulations will be one of 5s. per week.

On the last occasion when I had to ask the House to approve some Police Pensions Regulations I apologised for their complexity. I candidly do so again now. The Regulations are necessarily very complicated because of the provisions of the Police Pensions Act, 1948, with which the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) has some familiarity. The fact that they are complicated does not make it any less urgent for us to have the approval of the House for the Regulations so that widows and children of policemen to whom I have referred may receive their increased payments on 3rd April. This is what the Regulations will achieve, and I submit them to the House.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

The hon. and learned Gentleman has explained to the House the object of these Regulations and has indicated that their nature is inherently complicated. What I want to say at the outset is that we on this side are in full agreement with the object of the Regulations and most anxious that these police widows and children should benefit when the arrangements come into force on 3rd April.

I should also like briefly to restate why, as I understand it, these Regulations are necessary. They are consequential upon the passage of the National Insurance Act, 1960. As a result of that legislation certain retirement benefits will be increased; but there are certain classes of police widows and children who do not qualify for those retirement benefits because the police service did not participate in the State contributory old-age pension scheme before 1948. The Regulations now before us give power to make discretionary increases to the awards payable to those widows and children of the same amount as the National Insurance benefits which they cannot have.

For that reason, as I understand it, these Regulations have our full approval; but, for the information of the House, I should add that these Regulations have had a most chequered career. There are involved considerations of which the House should take notice and about which I hope the Home Office will soon think it necessary to do something.

The Scottish Regulations which we are considering are in substitution for two earlier sets of Regulations, both of which were withdrawn. In February, the original draft Regulations were considered by the Statutory Instruments Committee, and, as chairman of that Committee, I subsequently received a very courteous letter from the Secretary of State for Scotland pointing out that they contained a number of inaccuracies and as a result they would be withdrawn and relaid. They were, in fact, relaid together with an original draft of the Regulations relating to England. They were considered by the Statutory Instruments Committee, which drew attention to the fact that these Regulations have now become so complicated, as the hon. and learned Gentleman recognises, and are in such a state of obscurity that their consolidation is now long overdue.

I do not know if the House realises that the principal sets of Regulations have been heavily amended by some twelve sets of other Regulations, and that the corpus of this consists of some 555 Regulations, thirteen schedules, and an appendix. In view of that, the Statutory Instruments Committee pressed most strongly on the Government the urgent need for consolidation, but we were then met with the reply from the Home Secretary that under the Act there was no power to consolidate. A very surprising result, although research has shown that the plea for consolidation of these Regulations was made in another place as long ago as 9th December, 1952. It was then pointed out that if there was no power to consolidate, it followed that there was no power to amend. Therefore, the draft Regulations which were then before the House were again withdrawn and we are now presented with, in the case of Scotland, a third set of Regulations. I make no comment on the fact that the earlier Regulations were withdrawn.

The section of those earlier Regulations which has now been omitted from the draft that we are considering would, I think, not have met with the approval of this side of the House, because that particular part of the earlier Regulations would have had the restrictive effect of limiting the police pension that can be awarded to a policeman who has had less than thirty years service to those who reach the age of 50, and therefore it would have rendered ineligible for pension certain policemen who otherwise would be eligible. But the fact that these Regulations have now been withdrawn and substituted twice really shows the chaotic kind of muddle into which they have come.

The House should know that the Special Orders Committee of the House of Lords thought fit, in its Report to another place, dated 22nd February, to make this observation: The Committee recognise that the Secretary of State … has done what he can to guide the House to previous amendments … but the Committee are satisfied that the field of statutory instruments on which these Draft Regulations operate has by now got into a state of obscurity that renders it virtually impossible for the House to understand the amendments proposed. This is not a new matter, because as long ago as 9th December, 1952, when some earlier amending Regulations were being considered in another place, Lord Lloyd, who was then the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, gave what I can only construe as being tantamount to an assurance that the consolidation of these Regulations was contemplated, or that if the Government were advised that there was no power to consolidate, amending legislation would be introduced. Nothing has been done since 1952. I gather that the Government are now fortified by recent opinion that it is, to say the least, highly doubtful whether there is any power to consolidate, and therefore the only remedy for this appalling chaotic state of the law is a short amending Bill which would give the Government the necessary powers.

In view of the fact that these Regulations have revealed this most unsatisfactory state of affairs, I hope that before the House parts with these Regulations we can have some assurance from the Home Office spokesman that he recognises the need for action and will give us a promise of a short Bill giving the Government the necessary power to put this branch of the law into some state of order.

11.14 p.m.

Mr. Renton

If I may have the leave of the House to speak again, may I first of all say that I am grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) for several things; first, for saying that he agrees that these Regulations are necessary and have his full approval, and secondly for giving me the opportunity, in response to what he has said, to explain the position with regard to consolidation.

It is a fact that this matter was first mooted some years ago. The difficulty which we meet is this. The provisions of Sections 1 and 3 of the Police Pensions Act, 1948, are so obscure in their meaning and so unsatisfactory in their effect that, as he has pointed out, they have given rise to doubt among the lawyers as to their meaning. We are now advised that the Act does not permit the consolidation of the existing three previous sets of Regulations, and, of course, if these Regulations are approved, a fortiori it could not connect these with the three previous sets of Regulations either.

The Hon. Member threw doubt also on whether there was power to amend. On that I think there is no difficulty, because, in spite of the obscurity of the 1948 Act, the Interpretation Act of 1889 helps us on this question of power to amend, but does not get us over the doubt which has arisen with regard to the power to repeal and re-enact, which is what consolidation comes to. We are advised that the Act does not permit consolidation of the Regulations, and therefore this difficulty could be met only by changing the law.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has asked me to say that he is considering the possibility of introducing amending legislation at a con- venient opportunity. I am glad to feel, in the light of what the hon. Member for Islington, East said, that if such amending legislation were introduced it would have his support and that he would help us to get it with the minimum of trouble. It would obviously be a very short Bill.

Mr. Fletcher

The hon. and learned Gentleman can be completely assured that he will have the full support of this side of the House in carrying a short Bill such as he envisages into law as quickly as possible.

Mr. Renton

I am deeply grateful to the hon. Member for that most helpful intervention. Meanwhile, we have to operate under the existing powers and these Regulations are needed. With that reply to the hon. Member, I ask the House for approval of this Motion.

11.17 p.m.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

I am sorry to intervene at this late hour, but I am not clear from what has gone forward between the two Front Benches whether it is necessary to amend the Scottish Police Pensions Regulations as well as the English ones. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) has been very clear with reference to the English ones and mentioned the Scottish ones. The House is very grateful to him for bringing this forward.

If the Lord Advocate is to speak, I should like to know how many widows and children are to be affected in Scotland. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has re-referred to the English cases, and I think we ought to be told how many Scottish cases there are.

11.18 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. William Grant)

I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) that the Act in force at the moment is a United Kingdom Act and any amending legislation would cover both countries. I am told that the number of widows and children affected is round about 1,600, but I cannot give an exact figure.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Police Pensions (Amendment) Regulations, 1961, a draft of which was laid before this House on 16th March, be approved. Police Pensions (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations, 1961 [draft laid before the House, 16th March], approved.—[The Lord Advocate.]