HC Deb 11 December 1962 vol 669 cc360-6

11.4 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. C. M. Woodhouse)

I beg to move, That the Police Pensions Regulations, 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 6th December, be approved. I believe that these consolidated Regulations will be welcomed by the House, but, late though the hour is, I think I owe the House a few words of explanation both of the complexity of the Regulations and the reasons why it has not been possible to lay them before the House earlier.

My starting point is the Police Pensions Act, 1961. The House will recall that the powers in that Act have enabled us for the first time to consolidate the very complicated police pensions code. The results of the work undertaken on the consolidation are now before the House.

The reason that this could not be done before arises from the form in which the Police Pensions Act, 1948, was cast. It was cast in the form which it took because there were fears at the time that the change from a scheme enshrined in Acts of Parliament to one set out in Regulations might, if care were not taken, weaken the safeguards of existing pensioners and serving officers, and in order to allay this misgiving the 1948 Act was so drawn that the pension conditions of existing pensioners could not be worsened and the conditions of those still serving could not be changed in a number of vital particulars unless the officers concerned so desired. These were genuine safeguards —that is to say, they applied at the date of each subsequent alteration of the pension code.

Desirable though this obviously was, it had unfortunately one, probably unintended, consequence, which was that the drafting of the Act did not make it possible for us to consolidate the Regulations, and the result is that the Regulations are now very numerous, very complicated and very considerably amended. The Scottish Regulations are in a similar state.

As further amendments are made—and there are bound to be amendments from time to time—for example, to give effect to new pension increase Measures, the Regulations tend to become extremely complicated, and this is particularly the case since amendments have to be made not only to the current 1955 code but to the now obsolescent 1948–49 code. Naturally, there has been criticism both in the House and in another place of the resulting complexity of the existing codes, but for the reason which I have explained it was not possible to bring together all these Regulations under a single Instrument until the Act of last year gave us the power to revoke and restate the existing Regulations and therefore to consolidate in the fullest sense.

I am glad now to be able to seek the approval of the House for the consolidated Regulations, which revoke in their entirety the Regulations made since 1948. They provide a code for the future and they also restate existing pensioners' entitlement to their rewards. I should like to stress that the consolidated code which is now before the House does not in the slightest degree affect the safeguards for serving members written into the 1948 Act, nor does it affect the position of existing pensioners, their rights being preserved under the new consolidated code.

If hon. Members look at Regulation No. 104, headed "Transitional Provisions", they will see that in the new consolidated code there is a provision that These Regulations shall have effect as if … anything done under or for the purposes of any provision of the former Regulations had been done under or for the purposes of the corresponding provision of these Regulations", and this means that pensioners who originally received their awards under the old Regulations will in no circumstances find their pensions reduced. There is no need for any serving members of a police force or any pensioners —and in that I include widows and dependants of, pensioners—to fear that their right will be in any way affected.

There are one or two changes which have been introduced in the process of consolidation which I hope that the House will agree are improvements. I should like to draw attention briefly to the most important of them. There have hitherto been two sets of Regulations, those applying to England and Wales and those applying to Scotland. They were identical except on some minor points. The sort of minor points which I have in mind can be seen if hon. Members look at Regulation No. 37, which deals with Glasgow policewomen of unattested service before 1924, and Regulation No. 79, which refers to the widows or children of former lieutenants in the Scottish police, a rank which has been abolished. These are not minor considerations for those affected by them, but they are extremely few and it does not seem reasonable to have two long sets of Regulations which are identical, except for a few small items of that kind.

It therefore seemed to all concerned with the police pension code, including the local authority and police associations, as well as the central departments, that there should be a single code applying to England, Wales and Scotland as a whole. The consolidated code now before the House achieves that object. I assure the House that it has been drawn up in close consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and has been approved after consultation with the Police Council for England and Wales and the Police Council for Scotland, which is a necessary step before any such Regulations can be brought forward.

I should like to take the opportunity of thanking all those concerned in bringing these complicated Regulations to their present state of exactness. Although they are complicated, I can briefly summarise the purpose of them. It is basically to re-state existing entitlements in a more compendious way, but a number of minor amendments have been introduced for the sake of clarification. I need not trouble the House with those.

I ought to mention two or three amendments of substance. I stress that these are virtually the only changes of substance embodied in the Regulations. First, there is a provision by which an officer to whom the Overseas Service Act, 1958, applies will be able to count his service under that Act as pensionable service, which hitherto was not possible. At the same time, we have taken the opportunity to provide in draft Regulation No. 53 a procedure for appeal tribunals to be set up to hear appeals by overseas policemen aggrieved by the refusal of a grant or the amount of a pension. These tribunals fall within the definition in the First Schedule to the Tribunals and Inquiries Act, 1958, and are under the supervision of the Council on Tribunals, which has been consulted and is in agreement with the provisions in Regulation No. 53.

Only two other changes of substance call for brief mention. Both have been introduced as result of agreed recommendations made by the Police Council for Great Britain. The first is in Regulation No. 80, where provision has been made to secure from forfeiture, otherwise than for one of the serious offences far which a pension actually in payment must be forfeited, the pension rights of regular policemen who decide to stay on in service after having completed 25 years. This followed a review set on foot by a recommendation of the Royal Commis- sion on the Police in its Interim Report. The suggestion of the Commission was that the proposal to secure pensions in this way might serve as an inducement to officers to stay on after completing 25 years when they might otherwise have retired. There was a similar provision in the original Police Pensions Regulations, 1948. It was dropped in 1949 and is now reinstated.

The second change, which is again made on an agreed recommendation by the Police Council, is that consent to transfer will no longer be required, except in the case of chief officers of police and probationer constables, by officers seeking to transfer from one home police force to another. Another exception is for officers transferring overseas. At present all these would require consent if pension rights were to be preserved automatically. It is generally agreed that transfers in certain ranks between police forces should be encouraged in the interests of efficiency of the service and this amendment is designed to make that possible.

I must sound a note of warning. Although we have brought together in this code a number of existing Regulations in a briefer and simpler form which will make it easier for the police authorities to do their job—since they will be able to find all the Regulations in one place—I am afraid that it is too much to hope that the consolidated code will remain unamended for any great length of time. As changes in the pensions code are agreed, it will be necessary for us to ask the approval of the House for fresh amending Regulations.

However, I can say that now that the provisions of the Act are available it will be possible for us, at appropriate times, to repeat the process of consolidation and I think I can assure the House that the pensions code will never again become as complex as it has been in recent years.

Finally, I must apologise for a small typographical error which led to the draft having to be withdrawn and tabled again. Since this error, a small one, has been corrected and now that the draft is as exact as the skill of the many hands that have gone into it can make it, I submit it with confidence to the House.

11.16 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

My hon. Friends also welcome the presentation by the Government of this consolidated code dealing with the somewhat complicated subject of police pensions, both for policemen and their dependants, and I am sure that the House will be grateful to the Minister for the detailed explanation he has given of the reasons why this Statutory Instrument is before us tonight.

Hon. Members may have noticed that on the Order Paper appears a sentence in connection with this matter which states: The Instrument has not yet been considered by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. That was true when the Order Paper was printed and it may interest the House to know that the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, of which I have the honour to be the Chairman, at a meeting this afternoon considered this Statutory Instrument and decided, as might have been expected, that there was nothing in it as regards form which made it necessary for the Committee to direct the special attention of the House.

In fact, I think that I may properly say that it has been largely as the result of initiative and pressure from the Select Committee that we have now arrived at this happy state of affairs when the rather chaotic state of the Police Pensions Regulations has been put to an end and we now have a consolidated code.

The Minister explained in substance why this could not be done before the Act of 1961. We had been pressing for consolidation for a number of years, but what we were told—and what the Government were told on advice—as being the position was that the Act of 1948 did not in its terms confer on the Home Secretary the power to make any Statutory Instruments with any retrospective thoughts. Therefore, if the Home Secretary had decided to consolidate, it would have involved the repeal of existing Regulations and the making of new ones. He might, thus, have found himself in this difficulty. Someone would have said, "But the consolidated Instrument has a retrospective effect, because it retrospectively deals with a number of matters relating to the pensions which have been in force for a long time and would have been valid under the repealed Regulations but are no longer valid under the new Regulations." It was to overcome that technicality that the Minister or his predecessor will recall that we pressed for the passage of the 1961 Act to remedy that difficulty. I remember congratulating the Government when the Act was passed, and we are now very happy to find that the opportunity has been taken of making use of the Act by bringing into force this bundle of consolidated Regulations which, I am sure, will be of the very greatest assistance to all those who have to study them.

The hon. Gentleman indicated that the subject was still one of such complexity that he might, in future, have to ask the House to approve further amendments and changes in the existing code. I can assure him that if there are many such amendments, we shall continue to press that, without undue delay, they should again be consolidated, so that there may be one complete bundle of Regulations dealing with this complicated subject.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Police Pensions Regulations, 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 6th December, be approved.

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