HL Deb 03 December 1953 vol 184 cc926-34

3.13 p.m.

THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (LORD LLOYD) rose to move, That the Police Pensions Regulations, 1953, reported from the Special Orders Committee on Wednesday the 18th of November last, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, these Regulations are made under Sections 1 and 3 of the Police Pensions Act, 1948, and in accordance with the requirements of that Act my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has consulted the Police Council, who have expressed themselves in agreement with the draft regulations. The object of these regulations is to provide increased pensions for the widows of policemen who are murdered while acting in the execution of their duty.

The present police pension regulations provide a common level of pensions for the widow whose husband is killed in the execution of his duty, irrespective of the circumstances of his death; and the amount of pension payable is a sum which, after taking into account certain payments from National Insurance sources, must be not less than one-third of his pay. The Government consider that these existing provisions of the police pension scheme provide a reasonable level of widow's pension in most cases where a policeman dies as the result of an injury received in the execution of his duty. But, as noble Lords will be aware, there have been cases in the past year or two where policemen, acting in the execution of their duty, have been murdered by armed criminals; and the Government have considered very carefully whether they would be justified in proposing increased pensions for the widows of policemen killed in these exceptional circumstances.

As your Lordships will appreciate, there are obvious difficulties in the way of such a course. In the first place, it can be argued that the widow of a police officer who is drowned while making a gallant attempt to save life—or, for that matter, is killed accidentally on point duty—is no less deserving than the widow whose husband is shot dead by a criminal when the police officer is trying to make an arrest. In the second place, it can be argued that there are other occupations where a man might be killed in the course of his calling in circumstances which would justify special consideration for his widow. Nevertheless, after careful consideration, the Government have come to the conclusion that policemen who die as a result of an attack which is intrinsically likely to cause death are in a special category, and that special provision for their widows ought to be made.

I should like to give our reason for this. In carrying out his duty a policeman is subject to two restraints which are peculiarly characteristic of British police methods. He himself is rarely armed, and there is a strong tradition that his methods, even with the most worthless members of the community, should be reasonable and fair. If he uses undue force and oppressive means, he is not only answerable at law but is liable to bring discredit on the British police force. I am sure your Lordships would not wish to see any alteration in these restraints on police methods, which have their own effect on the attitude of the criminal community. But, of course, a policeman may at any time in the course of his duty have to deal with an aggressive, and possibly an armed, criminal; and in a very small number of cases he may, as a result of these restraints, be exposed to exceptional risk. The Government feel, therefore, that it is vitally important that the police officer should know that if he meets his death in dealing with an armed criminal, the best possible provision will be made for his dependants. It is with this end in view that these Regulations have been prepared.

The purpose of the Regulations is simple. Where a police officer dies in the exceptional circumstances prescribed by the Regulations his widow will be entitled, after account has been taken of the customary insurance benefits, to a pension of half his average pension able pay at the time of his death, instead of the existing pension of not less than one-third of that pay. In figures, this means that, in future, the minimum pension of the widow of any police constable killed by an armed criminal will be about £200 a year. I am sure your Lordships will be glad to note that, as well as giving these pensions in future cases, the Regulations have been drafted in such a way that some increase can also be given to the widows of officers who have been killed by armed criminals in the last year or two, and whose deaths provoked the discussion which has resulted in these draft Regulations. That is all I need say, I think. I commend the Regulations to your Lordships in the belief that their approval will show that Parliament intends to take every possible step to strengthen the forces of law and order in their difficult struggle against the criminal.

Moved, That the Police Pensions Regulations, 1953, reported from the Special Orders Committee on Wednesday, the 18th of November last, be approved.—(Lord Lloyd.)

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, the House will have heard with great interest the noble Lord's statement moving this Motion, and all your Lordships will be glad that increased provision is to be made for the dependants of police officers who lose their lives in these particular circumstances. We followed the ease made by the noble Lord and the arguments which led the Government to their present conclusions. I think it would be too much to expect noble Lords on this side to give an unqualified agreement to this singling out of victims of very special circumstances; but certainly anything that conduces to the morale of police officers who may find themselves in these circumstances is all to the good; and we have no hesitation at all in agreeing to these proposals.

There is, however, one other aspect of the matter which the noble Lord did not mention, and upon which we should like some information. This is a concession to a certain class of State servant who may be killed on duty. Is there any department of the Government which surveys the whole field of public servants who lose their lives on duty and correlates the rate of pension allotted to each? How, for example, does the rate of pension allotted in these Regulations compare with the pension allotted to the widow of a soldier, a sailor or an airman killed on duty? This is almost the equivalent of being killed in action. It would be going too far, perhaps, to suggest that there should be some correlation between the pensions awarded to State servants killed on duty and the awards made to men in industry engaged in hazardous occupations—for example, fishermen or miners—but the problem is there: how the pensions for servants, not only of the public but also of corporations and other non-official services, should be made equitable. That is a point about which I should like the noble Lord to say something if he can. Subject to that, we have no objection and will support these Regulations.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to put two questions to the noble Lord, not about the wider range of public servants but about the interpretation of the Regulations as they apply to the police force. The noble Lord, in introducing the measure, used the word "murder," but that word does not appear anywhere in the Regulations before us. "Murder" would mean setting out with an intent to kill. What happens in the case of a constable who comes across a burglar, or a "smash-and-grab" person, engaged in his illegal activity, and who, in the ensuing struggle, suffers injuries from which he subsequently dies? Does he come within the ambit of this present Order? Or take the case which has been mentioned, that of the police officer on traffic control who is knocked down and killed by a motor car. What happens there? It seems to me that this Order is too narrowly drawn. Surely, if a man loses his life in the discharge of his duty, then he is entitled, without consideration of anything but that fact, to the full benefit of this proposal. I would ask the noble Lord what will happen in the cases which I have cited.


My Lords, may I ask one further question? Who will bear the cost of these pensions? One hopes that they will not be a very large amount in aggregate, but will the cost of these pensions be added, in the Metropolitan area, to the bulk sum which is afterwards precepted on the local authorities? I know that the local authorities within the Metropolitan Police Area are constantly worried at the ever-increasing amount of precept for the cost of the police. Is this just another instance where the Central Government are being—I agree quite rightly—generous, but generous at the expense of the local authorities?


My Lords, I think all these observations show this: that, whilst we agree to these Regulations, we are a little doubtful whether they are quite logical. My noble friend Lord Ammon has given several illustrations to which the noble Lord is to reply in a moment, and we can draw even refinements on that. Take the case of a police officer who is in a chase after a "smash-and-grab" raid when, to do his duty at all, he has to drive his car at a reckless speed, in an endeavour to catch up with the fellow he is chasing. In the course of that chase, he may have an accident, and may be killed. That man is killed, not as the result of murder, or anything of that sort, but in an endeavour to apprehend a criminal. It seems a rather fine distinction to say that the latter man should not get the pension and that the man who is murdered should. The question that is agitating the minds of my noble friends, and I confess, my own mind, too, is this. Though we welcome the fact that these policemen should get this extra money, ought not this provision, logically, to be extended? Is there really any stopping ground between saying, "This must extend to any policeman who, in the course of his duty, loses his life." I should also be interested to hear the answer which the noble Lord makes to the pertinent question asked by my noble friend Lord Lucan: how the pension of a police officer in those circumstances will compare with the pension of a man of comparable rank in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force who is killed in action. We should all like to know that. It is important, so far as we can, to have a sort of co-ordinated scale all through. I hope the noble Lord can answer these questions.


My Lords, I support the noble and learned Earl, and I think I express the opinion of us all when I say that the object of these Regulations is obviously commendable. I am, however, a little uneasy about the method of implementing it: tacking these benefits on to the pensions scale, rather than making it, as in the Services, a posthumous award, in the form of a medal with some financial attachment to it. Could the noble Lord explain what has led the Government to differentiate in this rather peculiar way? To put it quite crudely, from the widow's point of view the policeman who is murdered and the policeman on point duty who is killed by a drunken motorist are equally dead.


My Lords, I will, to begin with, deal with the general proposition that was put to me by the noble and learned Earl. I think he will agree, first of all, with what we are trying to do, and that he will also agree that it is difficult in a case like this to know exactly where to draw the line. In answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, I may say that the reason we have done this in the form of a pension is that, if the reward were to be related to some other kind of posthumous award, there might be no certainty about the posthumous award itself, whereas the essence of our proposal is that the police officer should act in the certainty that his dependants, if he is killed in the exceptional circumstances of his duty, will have special provision. I am quite unashamed in saying that I think that is right, for the police officer does work in exceptional circumstances; in fact, I can think of nobody else who has the restraints imposed upon him that the police officer has. After all, the soldier is allowed to shoot back, but the police officer is not.

To come now to the actual terms of the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, and by the noble and learned Earl, the Leader of the Opposition, about the way in which these Regulations will work, I would say that the Regulations are not too narrow; on the contrary, I think they are on the whole drawn very wide. I will try to explain what I mean. We considered fully the possibility of linking the new provision to cases of officers murdered—I use the word "murdered" advisedly—in the execution of their duty, but we found there was serious objection to this. These pensions have to be administered by the police authority, and it seemed to us undesirable—I am sure the noble and learned Earl will agree with this—that the police authority should form an opinion as to whether a death was in law murder. They ought not to form in any case an opinion which is inconsistent with the determination of a criminal court, and if they were to form an opinion and the criminal court later found otherwise, that opinion would have to be modified and possibly a pension that had already been awarded might have to be terminated. In the regulations, therefore, the word used is not "murdered" but "attacked," which is wider than "murdered."

On the other hand, we felt that there would be objections to making the award dependent entirely on the result of criminal proceedings. Quite apart from the delay, there might be no proceedings—the offender might have committed suicide, or he might have died. Even if there were proceedings, a verdict that a certain person was not guilty of murder would not establish the fact that the dead police officer had not been murdered. We did not, therefore, want to tie the decision to the result of criminal proceedings. We found that the Regulations could not satisfactorily incorporate any express reference to murder, and the form of words chosen provides an independent test which a police authority can properly apply to these cases. The actual form of words does not bring in any judicial concept at all, nor does it make it necessary for the police authority to consider whether there was murderous intent on the part of the attacker. I say all this to the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, because he rather suggested that this Regulation was very narrowly drawn, to exclude the majority of cases. I say, on the contrary, that it is very widely drawn, to give the police authority every possibility of considering each case on its merits.

When we come down to the individual cases which he and the noble and learned Earl cited, frankly I do not think it would be fair for them to expect me to be tied to any particular case to-day. Earlier this week there was mentioned in another place the case in which a policeman, in trying to prevent a "smash and grab" escape, jumped on to a car, and the "smash and grab" raiders then deliberately ran him into another vehicle to try and throw him off. I am not going to say anything about that case one way or another beyond this—that I think that if that were considered an attack, and if it could be defined as an attack with murderous intent, the Regulation would give enough latitude for that case to be considered.

I think we should make a mistake to-day if we tried to go beyond general principles and to fix an exact dividing line. The Regulations give a very wide definition to the police authority, and within that definition, which I have explained, your Lordships must leave it to the police authority to decide, after hearing all the appropriate evidence in criminal proceedings, whether they would be justified in paying such a pension. Obviously, there are cases in which no question would arise, where clearly the officer had been shot or murdered, as in the recent case of two young criminals. In that case, there was no doubt that the policeman had been murdered. But there will be other cases where even eminent lawyers might find it difficult to say exactly whether a policeman was murdered. These Regulations give the police authority very wide latitude in the matter and I feel that we should do best to leave it to the good sense of the police authority to award pensions in a charitable and sensible way.

Then there was a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, in regard to comparisons. He asked me whether there was any body which co-ordinated all pensions throughout the public service. He did not give me notice of that question and I am not ashamed to say that I do not know the answer; but I have never heard of one. He next asked whether I could give a comparison, for example, between police pensions and pensions in the other services. The answer is, simply, that I cannot, because they are not computed on the same basis, and therefore, so far as I know, no true comparison could be worked out. But I was certainly impressed by what he said, and the Government will bear it in mind. A good purpose might well be served by doing something on the lines he has suggested.


There was the point raised by Lord Burden, as to the cost. Could the noble Lord say something about that?


Yes, certainly; I beg the noble Lord's pardon.


My noble friend Lord Burden has been called away to a Committee meeting.


The answer is that the local authority pay 50 per cent. and the Exchequer pay 50 per cent.

On Question, Motion agreed to.