HC Deb 16 March 1965 vol 708 cc1227-41
Mr. Speaker

Mr. George Thomas.

11.6 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Thomas)

Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)

On a point of order. I understand that the Joint Under-Secretary intends to move the Police Pensions (Amendment) Regulations, 1965, which, I understand, are designed to amend the Police Pensions Regulations, 1962. A short while ago I tried to obtain a copy of the 1962 Regulations from the Vote Office and was informed that no copies had been sent over. I shall be most grateful for your Ruling in this flatter, Mr. Speaker. It is very difficult to discuss these Regulations intelligently unless copies of the earlier Regulations are available to hon. Members. I would be grateful for your help, Mr. Speaker.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

Further to that point of order. I would add that I, too, went to the Vote Office and tried to get a copy of the 1962 Regulations. It will be within the recollection of the House that on most of these matters I have tried to intervene in the debates. I find it completely impossible to debate this matter without being able to have a copy of the 1962 Regulations. I think that, in the interests of the ordinary hon. Members of the House, the discussion should be postponed until copies of the Regulations are available.

Mr. Speaker

I do not wish to appear prescient. A short while ago the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) was good enough to inform me that he proposed to raise this point and, subject to other difficulties, I have found the material volume. I did once accept a Motion for the adjournment of a discussion on similar grounds and I made a statement to the House on 12th December, 1961, reporting an agreement which had been arrived at with the then Leader of the House, the gist of which, for this purpose, is that I said …that a Minister in charge of an item of business will in future: (a) in the case of documents which may fairly be deemed to be needed for that debate and which are held by the Stationery Office, be responsible for having a reasonable number of copies put in the Vote Office …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1961; Vol. 651, c. 222.] I am impressed with the point of it being difficult to discuss these particular Regulations without having in one's hand a copy of the Regulations which they amend. I do not know whether the Minister can help me?

Mr. George Thomas

I am sorry that hon. Gentlemen opposite have failed to get copies of the 1962 Regulations. I am afraid that I do not supply them. I do not know whose responsibility it is to see—

Sir D. Glover

It is certainly somebody's.

Mr. Thomas

—that copies are available and I agree that it is somebody's responsibility.

Sir D. Glover

It is not ours.

Mr. Thomas

I feel like saying that it is not mine, either. If it is mine then I apologise to the House. I should have thought that we could have continued with the debate, but I am at the discretion of the House in this matter—

Mr. Speaker

Not quite. I do not wish to be unduly tiresome, but there is a sort of dividing line between my responsibility and that of the Department—I should say, of the Minister—and I think that it is his responsibility in respect of these Regulations of 1962. What we do about it may be a matter for discussion, but I would be dependent on a Motion.

Mr. Sharples

I think, Mr. Speaker, that the House is in very real difficulty here. The undertaking given, which was accepted by the then Leader of the Opposition, was that the Minister in charge of an item of business would be responsible for putting these copies in the Vote Office. We face a very real difficulty, because I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House probably want the amending Regulations. These Regulations, as I understand it, are to increase the pensions of the police, and I certainly would not wish to be held in any way responsible for holding up what might be pension benefits, particularly, I think, pension benefits for widows of members of the police—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am afraid that I did not make the point clear. There is nothing before the House at the moment except a point of order. I would consider a Motion, should it be moved in these circumstances.

Mr. George Thomas

I think that if the House were prepared for me to continue, it would find it quite easy to understand these Regulations without the 1962 Regulations. It is important that we should get them through as quickly as we can, and I must ask the House to let me continue—

Sir D. Glover

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, and to what has been said by the Minister, this may be in order, and it may be desirable from the Department's point of view and the point of view of the people involved in the Regulations, but we always have to be very conscious of the position of the House of Commons in these matters. The Government, as you had admitted by your Ruling, in the person of the Minister—and I am not trying—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This appears to me to be irregular on any view. We cannot discuss the merits of the matter on a point of order. I do not have the power, and I do not propose to usurp it, to prevent the Minister from moving a Motion, should he think it right to do so.

Sir D. Glover

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, if I can continue—and I do apologise if I went too wide before—the House is in some difficulty. It may or may not be at the moment—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That does not arise on a point of order. The point of order is that the Regulations which are to be amended are not available, or are not available in sufficient quantity, in the Vote Office. That concludes the point of order.

Sir D. Glover

With respect, the Minister said that he thought he could continue the discussion on that basis. All I am saying is that, whether or not he is right, I do not think that the right way to treat the House of Commons is that we should have this debate when these Regulations are not available—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to say that, but not on the point of order. The point is that if the Minister wants to move the Regulations I have to hear him. There are no other matters before the House.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Would you accept a Motion to adjourn, Mr. Speaker—I do not like to say to adjourn the Motion, because the Minister has not put the Regulations yet, but a Motion not to receive the Minister's Motion in this respect because of the absence of the copies in the Vote Office?

Mr. Speaker

No. Not to deceive anybody, I will consider such a Motion in due time, but it cannot be moved until I have proposed the Question upon the Minister's Motion.

Mr. George Thomas

I have been in the House a long time, and the last thing I would wish to do would he to cause hurt of the sort we have had tonight. I apologise, and I am very sorry that it has occurred. I beg to move, That the Police Pensions (Amendment) Regulations 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved. These draft Regulations amend—

Mr. Graham Page

Now that the hon. Gentleman has moved the Regulations, am I at liberty to move that the debate be adjourned?

Mr. Speaker

The point at which that can be done is when the Question is proposed from the Chair. I have not yet proposed it.

Mr. Thomas

These draft Regulations amend the Police Pensions Regulations, 1962, and they fall into three parts. It may be for the convenience of the House if I describe each part separately.

The object of Part 1 is to increase benefits for certain widows and children, payable under the Police Pensions Regulations, by an amount corresponding to the increases in National Insurance benefits which were made by the Act of 1964. It is necessary to make this special provision because the police were excluded from the contributory old-age pensions scheme which existed before the National Insurance schemes which were introduced in 1948. As a result, some police widows and children are not at present entitled to these benefits and police authorities are, therefore, given discretion to pay corresponding benefits under the provisions of the Police Pensions Regulations.

The effect of Part 1 of the Regulations is to give these special classes of widows and children increases corresponding to the National Insurance benefit as it now is. I do not think that I need quote all the figures which are incorporated in these draft Regulations now before the House and, also, in the National Insurance Acts; but, to give one example, a widow will get £5 12s. 6d. instead of £4 15s. a week over and above her basic pension for the first 13 weeks of widowhood. Thereafter, she will receive £4 a week instead of £3 7s. 6d. above her ordinary police pension.

The allowance in respect of a child, where both parents are dead, will be a maximum of £2 instead of 37s. 6d. a week. I am sure that the House will consider these to be wholly acceptable amendments. There are 8,000 police widows and children who will be affected by these Regulations, and they will apply in relation both to future awards and those already in payment.

The amendments in Part 2 flow mainly from the provisions of the Police Act, 1964, and I think the House would prefer that I should explain those a little more fully. That Act provides that, as from 1st April next, a police authority acting with the approval of the Secretary of State, may call upon a chief constable, a deputy chief constable, or an assistant chief constable to retire in the interests of the efficiency of a force. The draft Regulations No. 8 and No. 9 state that an officer so required to retire shall have an ordinary or short-service pension, according to the length of his service.

Regulation No. 10 ensures that such an officer will be able to commute part of the pension for a lump sum, while Regulation No. 13 excludes those officers from the existing provisions of the 1962 Regulations which provide for the compulsory retirement, in the interests of efficiency, of a police officer who has an entitlement to a maximum pension. These provisions would otherwise overlap the provisions of the Police Act to which I have referred.

The Police Act also makes further provision for schemes to be made amalgamating police areas. On and after 1st April amalgamation schemes will be coming into operation which may result in a chief constable losing his post, and Orders may be made under the Local Government Act, 1958, making boundary changes affecting police areas and a chief constable's post. Regulation No. 14 inserts into the Police Pensions Regulations a new Regulation No. 74A to provide for chief constables who are affected by these Schemes and Orders. The new Regulation secures that a chief constable who loses office in this way shall be treated as having retired. If he joins another police force within a prescribed period his service is to be treated as continuous for pension purposes. If he continues in the police service but suffers reduction in rank, the new Regulation provides that he shall be entitled to retain the age of compulsory retirement which was applicable to his former rank.

Special provision is made in the case of a chief constable losing office who was already a chief constable on 1st July, 1964, when the provisions of the Police Act, 1964, relating to local government reorganisation and amalgamation schemes came into operation. The new Regulation No. 74A, read with the new subparagraph (e) added to Regulation No. 3(1) of the 1962 Regulations by Regulation No. 9 secures that if he loses office as a member of a police force he shall, regardless of age, be entitled to an ordinary or short-service pension, according to the length of his service.

I should perhaps explain here that the rights of chief constables who are affected by local government reorganisation or a police amalgamation scheme will not be limited to those arising under the Police Pensions Regulations as amended by these draft Regulations. It is intended that compensation Regulations will be made under the Local Government Act, 1958, entitling these chief constables to claim compensation for loss of office or diminution of emoluments. Special provision will also be made in the compensation Regulations for chief constables who held that rank on 1st July, 1964.

The Regulations in Part II which I have not yet specifically mentioned—that is, Regulations Nos. 11, 12 and 15—make minor amendments.

In Part III, Regulation No. 17 provides that Part I of the Regulations shall come into force on 29th March, 1965, and Part II on 1st April, 1965. As I have explained, Part II is mainly consequent upon the coming into operation on that date—that is, 1st April—of certain provisions of the Police Act and police amalgamation schemes under that Act. Part I relates, as I have said, to increases in widows' and children's awards corresponding to increases in National Insurance benefits. As the increased National Insurance benefits will be payable as from 29th March, it is important that the increased police awards should also be payable from that date.

The Police Councils for England and Wales and for Scotland have been consulted and are in agreement with the proposal that these amendments should be made.

11.25 p.m.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I find myself in the difficulty in which so many of us find ourselves on either side of the House when a situation arises in the House of the kind which has arisen tonight. I do not suppose that there is anybody in the House who does not welcome the improvements brought about by this agreement.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

A bit more gracious.

Sir D. Glover

If the hon. Member would like me to be more gracious I will say that I warmly welcome it.

Mr. Foot

What about ecstatic?

Sir D. Glover

I will be ecstatic even, if the hon. Member likes, but the hon. Member who has a great rôle to carry out in the House would be, if he were sitting here—

Mr. Foot

The hon. Member is after a mare's nest.

Sir D. Glover

I am not, and the hon. Member knows it.

I apologise that it should be the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department whom I should be attacking tonight, because he is one of my greatest friends on the other side of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, everybody knows that is true. We are dealing here, as the hon. Gentleman said, with a draft Statutory Instrument which is to bring in Regulations to improve the pensions scheme for the police. The hon. Gentleman referred in his speech at least twice, if not three times, to the 1962 Regulations. I put it to him whether he would think that we should pass these Regulations tonight if he occupied the position which he occupied for many years on this side of the House.

Let us suppose in that case that the Regulations had been in force for three months, we having allowed them to go through without referring to the 1962 Regulations, and then Constable Smith or Sergeant Jones came to see the hon. Gentleman and said, "Under the Regulations which you allowed to go through on the nod on 16th March, 1965, I am cut out." I do not think that this applies, but unless I am given the opportunity of comparing this draft Statutory Instrument with the 1962 Regulations I cannot be certain that there are not loopholes in the Regulations which we as back benchers would not like to see go through on the nod. I find myself in a real difficulty. I have tried to speak in nearly every debate affecting the police during the time I have been a Member of the House. Nobody in the House has a better record of supporting the police.

Mr. Michael Foot

The hon. Member should not pull that one now.

Sir D. Glover

The hon. Member is speaking from his seat. I do not know whether he has lost the use of his legs. Obviously he would not do well on the beat if he were as comatose as he is at the moment.

We are asked to pass Regulations when the Government of the day—no matter whether Tory, Socialist or, even in the most wildly ecstatic circumstances, a Liberal Government—have not produced information in the Vote Office whereby a back bencher can make up his mind. I do not propose to oppose the Regulations.

Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)

Then the hon. Member should sit down.

Sir D. Glover

I do not propose to oppose them because I believe that they are beneficial to the Police Force, but in allowing them to go through I shall be faced with the awful problem, with which back benchers are faced, of somebody afterwards saying, "Of course, you had not read the 1962 Regulations or you would have known that I would be excluded."

I want to be quite certain that the Under-Secretary of State can assure me and every other back bencher that there are involved none of the Government twists which so often occur on these occasions, no matter which Government are in power, particularly after 11 o'clock at night. I want to be sure that none of us will find ourselves in difficulty because there is something derogatory in the Regulations, and that they are solely beneficial to the police.

The hon. Gentleman has apologised for the oversight by the Home Office and I accept his apology. I know, quite sincerely, that he did not deliberately keep the 1962 Regulations out of the Vote Office, but it means that I am dealing with these Regulations without being able to see them. Therefore, I hope he can assure us that there is nothing in this Statutory Instrument derogatory or inimical to even one person in the police. If I have that assurance I am prepared to withdraw my objection. It must be a clear assurance, however, because once we pass this Order we shall have lost our opportunity to protect the police in this respect.

11.32 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I do not rise to move the adjournment of this debate, as I think I would be entitled to do now, because, although a very important point has arisen, we do not want to hold up these Regulations. But I want to stress once again that there has been a breach of the Ruling which you gave two years ago, Mr. Speaker, for the assistance of hon. Members—that if an Order amends a previous Order, it is the Minister's responsibility to see that that previous Order is available to the House in the Vote Office. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State appreciates that now. I want to put this point again on record because I feel it my duty to do so as Chairman of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. Having said that, I will let the matter rest and hope that the Ruling will be obeyed in future.

Surely at this stage we should have these Regulations codified. This Instrument is at least the fourth amendment of the 1962 Regulations and, as is shown in it, one has to consult the 1962 Regulations in order to understand the proposed amendments. We have reached a stage when these could usefully be codified and the 1962 Regulations rewritten. On this occasion, we are asked to amend at least 12 Regulations and make five amendments to the Schedules. It would be very much easier if they could all be codified into one set of Regulations.

Secondly, there is the question of compulsory retirement. Under Regulation No. 13 of this Instrument a new Regulation is to be substituted for Regulation No. 60 of the 1962 Regulations. It excludes from compulsory retirement on ground of efficiency three officers, described as …a chief officer of police, deputy chief constable or assistant chief constable… These officers are to be taken out of these Regulations and I assume that they are not to be entitled to pension if they are compulsorily retired, at least that they will not be entitled under these Regulations. One looks to see what is substituted for that in Regulation No. 74A which is now included in paragraph 14, but Regulation No. 74A refers only to a chief constable of the police force. I do not know whether that phrase covers the three named officers in the new Regulation No. 60, but it seems to me that a deputy chief constable or an assistant chief constable may not be included and I should like the Under-Secretary to consider whether the wording is satisfactory, taking the new Regulation No. 60 together with the new Regulation No. 74A.

11.35 p.m.

Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)

Like my hon. Friends, I welcome the Regulations in view of the explanation given by the Under-Secretary, but, also like my hon. Friends, I was in some difficulty in trying to make out what the Regulations were all about, because I was not able to get hold of the original Regulations in the Vote Office. I was extremely impressed by the Under-Secretary's apology and very surprised that there was no apology on behalf of the Scottish Office, because these Regulations apply equally to Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland was not on the Government Front Bench when we began our discussion of these Regulations, although since the discussion began he has wandered in and out of the Chamber. I was extremely upset when no Scottish Minister was present at the beginning of the discussion.

I was misled to begin with, for the Regulations appear to be anonymous and yet I found that they were in the name of someone describing himself as "I" in the Preamble. I was then not quite sure whether that was the Secretary of State for the Home Department, or the Secretary of State for Scotland, but on reading through the Regulations I could see that the Secretary of State for Scotland had a definite duty to perform, because Regulations Nos. 8, 9 and 10 refers to Regulations made under a Scottish Act.

Sir D. Glover

Does the Regulations in 1962(b) refer to Scotland as well, or is my hon. Friend referring to other Regulations?

Mr. Hendry

That is one of the matters on which I have been hoping to get an explanation. These Regulations are meaningless at the moment, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will give us some explanation.

Looking through the Explanatory Note, I see that certain senior police officers may be required to retire in the interests of efficiency. That seems to apply to Scotland and I am entitled to know whether the Secretary of State for Scotland is careless of the well-being of senior police officers in Scotland, for he has absented himself from most of the debate. I hope that he will have the courtesy to give some sort of explanation and apology for the Scottish Regulations not being available to hon. Members.

Sir D. Glover

My hon. Friend has raised a matter of grave substance. Is my hon. Friend saying that the Regulations 1962(b) apply to Scotland in their entirety, or that he does not know and would like an explanation from the Secretary of State for Scotland? Here we are, again dealing with Regulations at a late hour, when the Government have not explained the situation to us and have not produced documents and when we are arguing in a vacuum and if this applies to Scotland—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order.")—if hon. Members want to make that sort of noise, I can assure them that I have a lot more to say.

Mr. Speaker

Not by way of an intervention in an hon. Member's speech. Has the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) concluded his speech?

Mr. Hendry

I wanted to add only that we are in a very great difficulty which my hon. Friend has mentioned and I hope that we will get an explanation and apology from the Secretary of State for Scotland.

11.40 p.m.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

As one who has been a member of a joint police committee in Scotland for many years and who is at present chairman of one, I should like to give the new Regulations my warm support. I know that the Retired Police Officers' Association (Scotland) views them in a very favourable light and will look forward to their early implementation. In the same way, with possible amalgamation in Scotland in view, I am sure that the Regulations as they affect chief constables will also be viewed in a favourable light in Scotland.

The Retired Police Officers' Association (Scotland) hopes, however, that it will not be long before the Minister lays Regulations before this House improving the pensions of police officers who have been retired for many years and who feel that their parity is well below the present-day level. With these brief remarks, and endorsing what my hon. Friends have said concerning the difficulty caused by the absence of the earlier Regulations, I give these amending Regulations my support.

11.42 p.m.

Mr. Richard Sharpies (Sutton and Cheam)

In discussing the Regulations, the House has been in real difficulty in not having the principal Regulations, without which it has been impossible to have a coherent debate. The Joint Under-Secretary of State did, however, make a full apology to the House in his opening remarks, and we on this side certainly accept the spirit in which that apology was made. We also had an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that these amending Regulations are designed to increase the pensions of, in particular, widows and others connected with the police. For that reason above all, we do not wish in any way to hold up the Regulations, although I feel that in the absence of the principal Regulations we would have been entitled to do so had we wished.

We must, therefore, accept the Joint Under-Secretary's assurance more or less unseen and we must ask him, in his reply, for a categorical assurance that as a result of these amending Regulations no one who is affected by them will be one penny worse off. I must ask the hon. Gentleman particularly to assure us that under Regulation No. 13, which amends Regulation No. 60(1) of the main Regulations, none of the senior police officers referred to will be worse off.

I must ask the hon. Gentleman also, in regard to Regulation No. 60(2) of the principal Regulations, which Regulation No. 13 amends—it is difficult to deal with the matter when we do not have the main Regulations before us—to assure us that none of the other police officers there referred to will be worse off and that throughout the whole of the Regulations no one who is affected will be one penny worse off. We have no means of checking this. We must, therefore, accept the assurance which the hon. Gentleman gives us.

I should like also to know why Parts I and III of the Regulations come into force on 29th March but Part II comes into force on a different date. That is not explained either in the Regulations themselves or in the Explanatory Memorandum, and I think that the House is entitled to an explanation of that.

Having said that, I must repeat my strongest protest at the way in which the House has been treated over this matter, but, for the reasons which I have given, and in view of the apology which the hon. Gentleman has made, we do not wish to hold up the passage of the Regulations.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. George Thomas

I am very grateful to hon. Gentlemen opposite for agreeing that this business should go forward, for I was in the House on the occasion which has been referred to, and I am therefore going to try to give, and I believe I can give, adequate answers to the points which have been raised.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples), and the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) asked me for a categorical assurance that no one would suffer, that no one would be worse off. I can say that these Regulations strengthen the protection and improve the position of all the pensioners concerned. I understand that, far from being worse off, everyone affected by these Regulations will be better off. I am very pleased to give that assurance to the House.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) rightly reminded the House that there had been a number of sets of Amendments to the 1962 Regulations. This is the sixth set, and clearly the time has come when they should be consolidated. The Government are anxious to introduce in the next Session of Parliament a consolidated Measure to incorporate all these Regulations. Indeed, this is our earnest intent.

I always hesitate to refer to Scotland, but perhaps I might tell the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) that the Measure does not affect Scotland in the detail about which he was worried. No new provisions have been made for chief constables losing office in Scotland as a result of police amalgamations or local government orders. The new draft Regulation No. 74A(4) refers only to orders under Part I of the Police Act, 1964, and Part II of the Local Government Act, 1958. It is not expected that in Scotland there will be compulsory amalgamations involving a chief constable in loss of office other than by retirement, and the reorganisation of Scottish local government is, I gather, still under consideration. There will be plenty of opportunity for discussion on that matter when it arises.

I was also asked about deputy chief constables and assistant chief constables who may be asked to retire, and whether they would draw pensions. The answer is that these people are eligible to receive a pension, and the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, and the hon. Member for Ormskirk, who I know take a great interest in police matters, may be assured that the police authorities, the police themselves, and the Police Council have agreed to these Regulations, and indeed they seek to see them on the Statute Book as soon as possible.

I hope that with that explanation the House will agree to pass these Regulations tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Police Pensions (Amendment) Regulations, 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved.