HL Deb 05 August 1919 vol 36 cc456-60

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill I may, perhaps, preface my remarks by saying that recent events, not contemplated when the Bill was drafted, have amply proved the necessity for this measure, and have also emphasised the urgency for passing it into law at the earliest possible date. I may, perhaps, also be permitted to express the gratification of the Government, and, indeed, of the country, at the way in which the police generally have withstood the sudden onslaughts upon their loyalty made within the last few days by the officials of the Police Union, supported by a very limited number of extremists amongst the police themselves. This assault has been supported by every kind of misstatement, even of falsehood, particularly in relation to the terms and objects of the Bill itself. It is to be hoped that some of the misapprehensions thus created may now be cleared away.

It is very satisfactory to note that the great majority of the police forces of this country have stood firm. Only seven out of 250 forces in Great Britain have been affected; of the others not a single man has been withdrawn from or has refused duty. In the Metropolitan Police 1,075 men have struck out of the total present strength of 19,000, and altogether 2,360 out of a total present strength of about 54,000 in all forces in England and Wales and 21,000 in the particular forces affected by the strike. I venture to think that in one respect this strike is significant and has had what I might almost describe as beneficial results. The failure of the strike has shown that the police realise the value of the high traditions which have been handed down to them and which they themselves are proud to maintain. They have shown that they will not lightly do anything to discredit or to tarnish their high reputation.

It is further shown that they appreciate that the Government are anxious to redress any legitimate grievances which may be brought to their notice, and that when they are satisfied that these grievances will be fairly considered they prefer to trust the responsible authorities rather than to be misled by professional agitators. It is very very much to be hoped that the example set by the police in this respect will have a good and a permanent influence on many others who at the present time, when, as we know, there is a spirit of unrest abroad, might otherwise he inclined to act somewhat hastily and to proceed to extreme measures which they would most undoubtedly ultimately regret. I would suggest that no more effective check could be given to the influence of extremists, who are not only the enemies of this country but are the worst friends of those whose interest they profess to safeguard, than their repudiation by the members of the police force. It is indeed gratifying that by their good sense and loyalty the members of the police force have restored the confidence and won back the admiration of their fellow-countrymen which was perhaps temporarily imperilled by events a few months ago. By their refusal to respond to evil counsels they have once again proved that they are a force of which this country may indeed be proud.

To turn to this Bill, I would very briefly outline the three principal objects which it seeks to attain. First it seeks to enable the Government to give effect to the Report of Lord Desborough's Committee with regard to the revision and standardisation of police pay and conditions of service; secondly, to deal with the intolerable situation created by the action of the body calling itself the Police and Prison Officers' Union and to prevent attempts by any body or person to cause disaffection in the police; and, thirdly, to provide and place on a statutory basis machinery for enabling the police to make collective representations to the local police authorities and to bring matters affecting the Service as a whole before the Home Office or the Scottish Office as the case may be.

Before referring more fully to the Report of the Committee and the manner in which its recommendations have been carried out by the Bill, reference should be made to the very great debt of gratitude which the Government and the police owe to the Chairman and members of the Committee. Considering the difficulty of the subject and the wide range of evidence that had to be taken, their first report was issued in a remarkably short time as a result of indefatigable work, and their recommendations met generally with warm approval both from the rank and file of the police force and from the police authorities. The Committee have not yet finished their work and have still to deal with general questions of police organisation; but this Bill contains all that is necessary to enable the carrying into effect of the recommendations of Lord Desborough's Committee. The greater number of those recommendations refer to the pay of the police and the provisions of Clauses 4, 6, and 7 are directed, among other things, to enable the Government to carry out these recommendations. Clause 4 will enable the Secretary of State to standardise the pay, allowances, pensions, clothing, expenses and conditions of service of the police forces throughout the country —a point on which the Committee lay considerable stress.

The most controversial provisions of the Bill are those of Clause 2, which prohibit the police from belonging to any trade union or any association having for its object, or one of its objects, to control and influence the pay, pensions or conditions of service of any police force. This has been construed as being an attack by the Government upon trade unions as such; but it is, of course, nothing of the kind. Policemen are not industrial workers and institutions which are natural to, and indeed a necessary part of, the industrial system of the present day, are impossible in a disciplined body such as the Police. The essential part of a trade union is the power and the right to strike; but in the police, where discipline is vital, the right to strike would mean the ruin of discipline and complete disintegration. The difference between the industrial worker and the policeman has been aptly expressed in a recent article in a newspaper in which it is pointed out that the ordinary industrial worker goes to work, while the policeman goes on duty.

If, however, the policeman is to be prohibited from belonging to a trade union, it is necessary that he should have an inalienable right freely to bring his grievances, if any, to the notice of the highest authority, and this is provided, and made statutory, by the creation of the Federation which is referred to in Clause 1 and in greater detail in the Schedule to the Bill. The question of a representative body for the police was not included in the terms of reference of the Committee, but the Committee came to the conclusion that the establishment of some system for the purpose would be necessary as a corollary to the application of the principle of standardisation of pay; and they sketched the general lines of an organization which corresponds very closely to that which the Government had already decided to adopt.

It has been suggested that this Federation will be under the control of the Police Authorities, but this is not the case. It is limited only in one respect—namely, that it is precluded by Clause 1 from considering questions of discipline and promotion affecting individuals, although it may of course freely consider the general principles of discipline and promotion. This is in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.

By Clause 1 subsection (2), of the Bill it is provided that the Police Federation shall be entirely independent of, and unassociated with, any body or person outside the police service. This is in accordance with, but perhaps goes rather further than, the recommendation in paragraph 82 of the Committee's Report, that the Representative Body suggested by them should be "confined to serving members of the Police." The reasons for this provision of the Bill will be apparent to every thinking man, and are emphasised by the events of the past week.

There remains one further point in the Bill to which attention should be drawn, and that is the provision in Clause 3 imposing penalties upon any person who causes, or attempts to cause, disaffection among the members of any police force or induces, or attempts to induce, any member of a police force to withhold his services. The evils resulting from a police strike, even from a strike on so small a scale as that which has recently taken place, must be apparent to everyone. Those evils have been deliberately created, and are now being fostered, by a campaign of wilful misrepresentation and falsehood. Deliberate misstatements, not only regarding the number of men who have forsaken their duty, but also regarding the objects of this Bill, are being made daily with the express object of seducing men from their obligations to the State. It is necessary that such practices should be stopped.

There is only one other point to which it is necessary to allude. It is being freely stated that this Bill is the "thin end of the wedge," the beginning of an attempt to crush trade unionism altogether. It is amazing that such a statement should be believed. It is doubtful whether there is a single member of either House of Parliament who in the present day would wish, even if it were possible, to put an end to trade unions. It can be stated with the utmost possible emphasis that in introducing this Bill the Government had no intention whatsoever to make an attack upon trades unions. With these few remarks I will ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Jersey.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House to-morrow.