HC Deb 21 November 1967 vol 754 cc1272-80

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Gourlay.]

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

After the excitement of the economic debate, I wish to raise a matter which has caused great concern in many parts of the country. Many hon. Members will readily realise that my reason for drawing the attention of Parliament to the very vexed question of disabled policemen and their inadequate superannuation arises from the dismissal of P.C. Archibald, a constituent of mine, from the Cumbria Police Force.

The police service in this respect had a rather bad Press, largely, I would say, due to the failure of the police authority to explain its own position as well as to the rather precipitate action in retiring P.C. Archibald now instead of in a few months' time. In saying that, I would not wish to infer that the members of the Cumbria Police Committee are not capable of exercising their duty. Most of them have given a lifetime of service to the public and I know that their decision was not made in a light vein.

As a result of the adverse publicity, I have received a large volume of correspondence from all over the United Kingdom, and, in particular, from ex-policemen who, like P.C. Archibald, have been compulsorily retired from the police as a result of injuries sustained in the course of duty in trying to restore order or to arrest criminals.

Many of these men, with perhaps ten years or more service, some with less, now find themselves living on a few pounds per week. Some have been unfortunate in getting fixed up in housing, but in the case of P.C. Archibald I am glad to say that Carlisle City Council quite rightly has already made it clear that when he leaves the force he will be rehoused in a corporation house if he so desires.

I emphasise that members of the police forces, particularly in the ranks of constable, sergeant and inspector, who are compulsorily retired as a result of injury on duty and who have ten years' service or more, as a general rule receive no more from the police pension fund than would be paid in cases of ill health retirement quite unconnected with injury on duty. This anomally or incongruity is highlighted in those all too frequent cases of medical retirement through injury sustained in acts of conspicuous gallantry.

The pensionable pay of a provincial police constable is £1,095 a year at five years' service, £1,135 from six to 13 years' service, £1,170 from 14 to 18 years' service, and a maximum of £1,205 after 19 years' service, with an additional £50 a year for male constables in the Metropolitan and City of London Police Forces.

At the outset, it must be conceded that retirement due to injury on duty when a constable has less than ten years' service results in a police pension instead of the gratuity payable for ill health retirement unconnected with police duties. It would be utterly wrong at this late hour to go into the details of the income of my constituent, about whom so much has been said and written, when he leaves the force. It is sufficient to say that the regulations themselves need revising so that any policeman, or policewoman, who is seriously injured in the pursuit of his duty receives an adequate remuneration if he has to leave the force, particularly if his injuries are such that he will not work again.

I could give many examples of correspondence which I have received. There was the case of the police constable in the Lincolnshire Constabulary, about whom my hon. and learned Friend may know something, who received injuries in the execution of his duty and who up to that time had received two commendations from the previous chief constable. His disability pension is classified at 20 per cent. and, after successive increases, he now receives only approximately £3 a week. That is not sufficient. There is also the case of a police constable in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Joseph Slater) who received publicity, as has the Archibald case.

My complaint is about the painfully inadequate recompense given by way of pension to those unfortunate policemen who are injured in the course of their duty and who seek to maintain a family alongside able bodied men. Another important point in the majority of these cases is that there is no public fund to augment the pension. Fortunately, there is in the case of my constituent.

Unlike those employed in industry, if a policeman is injured he cannot go to court and seek damages for negligence.

Many who have been forced to retire from the force, had they been injured in a factory job, would have received very good compensation. Not so in the case of the policeman. Up till March of this year I was a member of a police committee, and have been for about 15 years. I understand that there is a very grave shortage of policemen in certain areas and, at the same time, crime appears to be on the increase. Such treatment as is meted out to those policemen who have been compulsorily retired is hardly encouragement for the right personnel to join the force, bearing in mind that their duties are unenviable, even at the best of times.

Our policemen and police force are the best in the world, and I would like to pay my tribute to them. In my young days when we saw a "Bobby" we were frightened and very often ran away from them. In my later years I realised that the policemen are our best friends. In the main they are always friendly, always ready and helpful with advice and information, and at the same time ready to carry out their duty by protecting us from the small minority who are out to break or dodge the laws and to cause trouble.

Surely it is the duty of the nation to protect them should they have the misfortune to lose their job as a result of injury and I trust that the Home Secretary will give an undertaking to review the police superannuation schemes to ensure that in future justice will be done.

10.12 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dick Taverne)

My hon. Friend has put before the House a matter which deserves the most earnest and sympathetic consideration, and I am glad that he has raised this matter. Like all of us he is concerned with fair and adequate financial provision for police officers who are retired because of disablement as a result of injuries received in the performance of their duties.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend's general approach and, having had some experience in the course of the last year and a half, I cannot speak too highly in praise of the police service and the way in which its members help us, ensuring that we can lead our normal lives. When a policeman is injured in the course of his duties the least that we can do is to ensure that he and his dependants are treated fairly and sympathetically.

The hon. Member raised the case of P.C. Archibald, and when the first details of this case came out in the Press the Home Secretary immediately expressed his concern and made inquiries about his treatment by the Cumbria Police authority. Apart from the hon. Member, several other hon. Members have written about this case. As a result a reply was on its way but my right hon. Friend decided to delay the reply until this debate had taken place.

Before I come to this case, perhaps I should say something about the pension regulations and the way in which police officers who are disabled in the course of their duties are dealt with. There are two separate questions which arise. The first is the general framework and whether this general framework is adequate. The second is whether the Cumbria authority acted properly within this general framework in dealing with the case of Police Constable Archibald.

First, I should like to give an assurance to my hon. Friend on a matter which has caused some concern. Police officers who are disabled in the course of their duty are not retired from the service until careful, individual and sympathetic consideration has been given to their case. Of course, the decision is not for the Home Secretary; it is for the police authority. But I am assured that if it is possible to employ police officers on light duties either in the uniformed service or in civilian duties, this is done.

It sometimes happens that police officers prefer to retire so as to take other work, but no decision is taken that an officer should be retired without full consideration of medical advice, and usually a decision is not reached until a long period has elapsed after the injury was received. This may sometimes be a matter of two years, and during the whole of this period the officer is on full pay and allowances.

If, in the event, the officer is retired, he is then granted a pension under the provisions of the Police Pensions Regulations, which my hon. Friend has questioned. These Regulations are prepared after consultation with the Police Council on which both the official and staff sides are represented. They are subject to affirmative Resolutions of this House, and hon. Members may recall that a consolidated set of Regulations was introduced by me and approved at the end of last year.

In these unfortunate disablement cases, the Regulations set out to ensure that an officer should receive from public funds—and by "public funds" I mean either by way of police pension alone or a combination of police pension or pensions and social security benefits—not less than specified proportions of pay which are found to be appropriate to his circumstances. The proportions vary according to his years of service and the degree of his disablement. The highest proportion laid down in the Regulations is five-sixths of pay, but in some circumstances the officer's combined benefits can substantially exceed that proportion.

As I have implied, police officers and their families are entitled to social security benefits in the same way as everyone else, and benefits under social security legislation are usually payable in respect of injury. To some extent, these benefits are taken into account in the calculation of the police pension. Coming to the somewhat complicated details, in the first place, the officer is entitled under the Regulations to a basic pension which is the accrued pension he has earned over his years of service. This pension is payable in all circumstances and is unaffected by any social security benefits which he may be receiving.

In addition, the Regulations provide for the payment of a supplemental pension which represents the difference between the basic pensions and the specified proportion of pay which take account of the degree of disablement. But the amount of the supplemental pension which is payable depends on the social security benefits which he receives.

I come to particular examples, including Police Constable Archibald's case. A police constable like Mr. Archibald who retired after nine years' service with the degree of disablement of 40 per cent..—that is, when his earning capacity has been affected to that extent—would receive a basic police pension of £149 a year, which represents nine-sixtieths of his pensionable pay. If he were not receiving any social security benefits, he would receive in addition a tax-free supplemental pension, which would bring his total police pension to £265 a year. However, it could be that he would receive a tax-free industrial injuries disablement pension of about £198 a year, in which case, although the police supplemental pension would not be payable, his total benefit would be £149 plus £198, or a total of £347 a year, and he would continue to receive this while the degree of disablement persisted, whatever work he took up. if he were unable to take employment, he would receive in addition—assuming that he satisfied the usual conditions—social security benefits which, if he were married with two children, would bring his total income to £835 a year.

To summarise Police Constable Archibald's case, in addition to his police disability pension of £12 a month, which is all that was mentioned in the Press, he is also eligible for social security benefits which, if he satisfies the relevant conditions, may bring his income to about £835 a year. Not all of this payment, of course, would continue if he were to take on other employment. In addition, however, he became eligible for certain other benefits, to which I shall come presently.

This is a case where the officer's degree of disability has been assessed at 40 per cent., but had he been exceptionally severely disabled the benefits by way of police pension and social security benefits which he and his family might receive could be as much as £1,500 a year.

One other set of circumstances which I should like to mention by way of illustration is that of a married constable, without children, who is retired with exceptionally severe disability after completing 30 years' service. His basic pension would be £752 a year. His police supplemental pension would bring up the total police pension which could be paid to £940 a year, but the benefits which he might receive from both police pension and social security sources could be, in total, £1,995 a year. I emphasise that this would be an extreme case or exceptionally severe disability.

I realise that this is a rather complex matter to explain, but the examples which I have given draw particular attention to two points. The first is that the amount of a police pension depends to some extent on the degree of disablement. That degree is assessed by a police medical officer, but if the police officer thinks that the degree of disablement which he has suffered is more severe than the assessment, he can, of course, appeal to an independent medical referee. The second point is that in addition to any police pension actually payable, considerable benefits can be paid in respect of the injury under social security legislation.

I should mention one further benefit which is avilable to police officers. If an officer's disablement is attributable to a criminal offence or to certain other circumstances, such as injury received in the course of effecting an arrest or attempting an arrest of an offender, compensation may be paid by way of lump sum under the Scheme of Compensation for Victims of Crimes of Violence.

Again, I come back to Constable Archibald's case because it is important to note that in addition to the benefits that he would be receiving by way of income, which would be in the region of £835 a year, he has so far received over £2,000 from this scheme and from other sources and it seems possible that he may receive further sums.

Lastly, I should mention the circumstances in which his employment in the police service came to an end. Since he returned to duty in September, 1965, he has been employed in administrative work in the C.I.D. in the Cumbria Police Force. The job was specially made for him because his injuries made it quite impossible for him to carry out normal outside duties of a beat constable.

Even so, he has had long periods of sickness, during which he received full pay, and an operation on his foot which was undertaken to restore some degree of mobility has, unfortunately, been unsuccessful. The police authority then came to the conclusion that he was unlikely to be fit for normal police duties again and discharged him from the service with effect from 1st December.

I have no doubt that the police authority would have been prepared to offer him employment with the police force as a civilian, but he himself has made it clear on several occasions, as he recently did on television, that he was simply not interested in a desk job and that he wanted to go into the licensed trade. I understand that that is what he wants to do now.

From all this, I hope that my hon. Friend will agree, first, that the general framework is not unreasonable and, indeed, compares favourably with many other forms of employment. I think that it is right, in considering the adequacy of the benefits to policemen disabled in the course of their duties, to look at the total benefits payable from public sources and not only the amounts from police funds.

I hope that the House will agree that the Cumbria authority has acted properly within the general framework. This is not, I would have thought, a case in which one could say that an officer who has acted with very great gallantry has simply been thrown on the scrap heap.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-four minutes past Ten o'clock.