§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT JOWITT)
My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I believe that your Lordships will find it to be an entirely uncontroversial Bill, judging from its passage in the other place; neither on Second Reading nor on Committee stage—or, indeed, at any later stage—was there any Division on the 707 Bill. The object of introducing the Bill at the present time is to adapt the police pensions code, in view of the fact that on July 5 next the National Insurance and the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Acts come into force. As your Lordships know, policemen have hitherto been one of the excepted classes, so far as State insurance is concerned, but like everyone else they will be insured under the new general scheme, and will also become insured under the Industrial Injuries Act. The policeman will pay his full contributions under those Acts and will receive the full benefits, but it is considered necessary to make consequential adjustments in his police pension conditions.
One of the more important questions to which reference may be made at this stage is the adjustment proposed in respect of the ordinary retirement pensions. The provision suggested for the police in this respect is in line with that proposed for other classes of public servants; regulations on similar lines, for instance were made in respect of local government employees, on June 19 last year. The proposal, briefly, is that a policeman will continue, as at present, to be able to earn a two-thirds pension after thirty years' service, or a half pension after twenty-five years' service. He may be, and often is, only fifty—or even less—when he retires with this pension, and he will draw it in full until he reaches the age of sixty-five. At that age, he will begin to receive a retirement pension of 26s. a week under the National Insurance scheme, together with a pension of 16s. a week for his wife, if he is married. When he begins to draw his National Insurance pension, his police pension will be reduced by an amount which will depend on the years he served in the police. If he has served for thirty years or more, his pension will be reduced by a maximum of thirty-fortieths of the National Insurance pension—that is, 19s. 6d. a week. This will have the effect that his total income, from police sources and National Insurance sources, will at age sixty-five be increased by 6s. 6d. a week.
In view of the reduction in his police pension at age sixty-five, his pension contributions to the police fund during his service will be reduced by one shilling a week. If the policeman were himself paying 708 the full cost of both his National Insurance and his police pension scheme, there would be no reason why he should not receive both pensions in full; but in fact he is paying for less than half the cost of his National Insurance pension and only about one-fifth of the cost of his police pension, and it would not be reasonable to expect either the State or the local authorities to subsidise full duplication. These arrangements will apply only to new entrants; existing members, if they wish, will be able to contribute in full towards both schemes and to draw both retirement pensions in full.
The opportunity is being taken in this Bill to provide for changes in the existing law which have generally been accepted as being desirable by all concerned in the police service, but for which it has been found impossible in the past to find Parliamentary time. We have also taken the opportunity of enabling a single general police pensions code to be drawn up to replace the existing code which, originally set out in the Police Pensions Act, 1921, has been considerably complicated by subsequent amending legislation. The Bill proposes (Clause 1) that provision as to the pensions, gratuities and similar allowances to be paid to members of the police forces and their widows, children, and dependants should be dealt with, in the main, by regulations under the Bill. As your Lordships know, there has been published a White Paper (Cmd. 7312) which has been circulated giving detailed information as to the contents of all the regulations which it is proposed to make under the Bill.
As in the case of the National Health Service and Fire Services Acts, it seems more appropriate for a detailed and technical code of this kind, applying to a numerically small group of the population, to be prescribed by regulation rather than in an Act. If minor Amendments are found to be necessary to deal with anomalies or difficulties which have not been foreseen, or changes are required which are generally accepted, it is not necessary to wait for Parliamentary time for a Bill. In particular, there is the desirability of there being power to amend the pension code, in view of the fact that the new scheme is closely interlocked with the National Insurance schemes, which are themselves novel, and which will almost 709 certainly have to be amended in the light of experience. These schemes may call for consequential Amendments in the police scheme. Moreover, there may well be changes on the police side in the fairly near future which will necessitate some amendment of the new pensions scheme.
The Committee which is to be appointed to consider conditions of service may well make recommendations affecting pensions—for example, the rate at which superannuation deductions should be paid, and the question of whether pension should be based on an average over the last three years' service instead of on actual pay at retirement, as at present. It is also explained in the White Paper that one change which is being considered by the Police Council is the possibility of substituting one modified scale of special pensions to replace the existing separate scales for accidental and non-accidental injuries.
The Bill as originally introduced provided substantial safeguards against any arbitrary use of the regulation-making power. For instance, it provided that the regulations must be prepared in consultation with the Police Council and made with the approval of the Treasury, and that they must be submitted to Parliament. It may be observed that all the various interests in the police service are represented on the Police Council and, if there should be dispute over any of the regulations submitted to the Council, discussion at the Council will certainly bring to the full light of day any points of difference. During the passage of the Bill through another place, alterations were made which provided for additional safeguards, and also put into the Bill itself certain provisions which were originally to be left to the regulations. The most important of the changes made during the passage of the Bill were, I think, six in number.
In the first place Clause 1 (2) was amended so that the regulations "shall" provide for the payment of pension in the circumstances specified in the subsection; the original provision said that the regulations "may" provide for such payment. Secondly, under Clause 1 (7), regulations are to be made subject to affirmative Resolutions, instead of negative Resolutions as originally proposed. Thirdly, Clause 2, a new clause, makes specific provision for 710 the protection of serving members. In view of the provisions of this clause, there will be no power under the regulations to worsen (save with the consent of the individual) the conditions as to ages of compulsory retirement and scales of ordinary pension applying to men serving when the first regulations are made. Similarly, there will be no power under further regulations to worsen conditions as regards these fundamental matters in respect of men who are serving at the time these further regulations are made. In other words, men now serving, and future entrants, will know that in these respects the conditions which they enjoyed on entering the Service cannot be worsened during their service except with their consent, or, of course, by another Act of Parliament—certainly not by regulation.
Fourthly, Clause 4 males provisions as to the circumstances in which a pension may be forfeited and substantially eases the corresponding provisions in Section 15 of the Act of 1921—by providing, for instance, that a pension becomes liable to forfeiture if the pensioner is sentenced to more than twelve months imprisonment, instead of three months as provided for in the Act of 1921. Fifthly, Clause 5 provides specifically for the right of appeal, and by provision in the Statute itself preserves the appeal to Quarter Sessions provided for in Section 17 of the Act of 1921. A further change made in the Bill in another place was the addition of the words in line 31 and onwards on page 4 (Clause 3 (1)) enabling regulations to be made for the payment of pensions or increased pensions to existing widows.
My Lords, this is a modest measure, dealing with a difficult and complicated subject. It makes no attempt to prescribe any startling new principle, but, as the Bill and the White Paper show, the intention is to preserve the main features of the existing Police pensions code, subject to the alterations needed to take account of the effect on the police of the National Insurance Act and the Industrial Injuries Act. I think that I may commend this Bill to your Lordships as a measure which will do something to simplify and improve the pension conditions of a very deserving section of the community. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)711
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I think your Lordships will all agree with the Lord Chancellor that this non-controversial measure has been vastly improved during its passage through another place. I certainly have no objection to raise to the Bill as it reaches your Lordships' House this afternoon. There is, however, one point upon which I would like to ask the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, a question. In the course of the passage of the Bill through another place, the Home Secretary gave an undertaking that he would inquire into the whole question of the pensions for widows of policemen who have lost their lives from non-accidental reasons—that is to say who have been killed while discharging their duties. All I wish to ask the noble and learned Viscount is whether the improvement which it seems likely is to be made in the pensions of widows in this category will refer to all ranks of the police force, from police constable up to Chief Constable. I feel certain that the Home Secretary's intentions were quite clear—namely that it should refer to certain groups of the lower-paid members of the police services, but I would like the Lord Chancellor to confirm that. The only other point that I would mention is really a Committee matter. When we come to the next stage of the Bill, I should like the Lord Chancellor to interpret the meaning in Clause 8 of "injury" which includes disease. Apart from that, I have no further observations to offer, except to say that I think your Lordships would be well advised to give the Bill a Second Reading.
My Lords my noble friends on these Benches also desire that the House should give this Bill a Second Reading. We hope, in particular, that the codification and clarification of the position will do something to reassure certain members of the force who have been in some doubt as to how their future will be affected by the new National Insurance Act. I am sure your Lordships will agree that no force has deserved better of the community as a whole; and no section of the community can be prouder of what the police force have accomplished than those who have been as intimately associated with them as have many of your Lordships.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am grateful to your Lordships for the remarks that have just been made. May I just reply to the question which was put to me by the noble Earl, Lord Munster? The proposals for special pensions for widows—that is to say, widows of men killed non-accidentally—will benefit the widows of members of the lower ranks of the force. It is not intended that they should affect the widows of the higher ranks—the widows of chief constables for instance. Such widows, I understand, will receive a total pension of one-third of pay in non-accidental cases, as at present. I thank the noble Earl for giving me notice of the conundrum which he proposes to put to me during the Committee stage. I shall be glad to look into the point.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.