Police Pensions Bill.

– in the House of Commons on 13th June 1921.

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As amended [in the Standing Committee], considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, the Bill be now read the Third time."

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY rose

Photo of Mr James Remnant Mr James Remnant , Holborn

Surely this is not the Third Reading. I thought we were going to take the Report stage.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

There were no Amendments on the Paper, and I have not received notice of any.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I do not think that anyone on this side understood that the Police Pensions Bill would be taken to-day. We certainly had Amendments which we desired to put down. Is it not possible to give notice when Orders are going to be taken in this way?

Mr. CHAMBERLAIN:

It is impossible to forecast—

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The question that the Bill be now read the Third time has been proposed, and we cannot go back upon that, but, of course, the Third Reading may be debated.

Photo of Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy , Kingston upon Hull Central

I thought that the hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir J. Remnant) was going to say a word. I really rose because I thought that the Third Reading was going through without a single word from the Home Secretary. After all, the discussion on the Second Reading was not very prolonged, and I think we might have had some explanation from the Home Secretary as to any changes that have been made in the Bill in Committee. I, personally, am serving on more than one Committee at present, and it is rather difficult in that case to follow the doings of other Committees. Not being a member of the Committee on the Police Pensions Bill, I have been unable to follow any alterations made in that Committee, but I daresay the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to explain the alterations and Amendments that have been accepted by the Government. I only wish to refer to one item in the Bill, namely, Clause 27, which makes the Bill applicable to policewomen. I hear criticisms in many parts of the country that policewomen, while undoubtedly a desirable innovation, are not absolutely necessary; that we got on without them in the past; and that, in view of the very stringent financial situation in which we now find ourselves, we might have got on a little longer without them. They are, I suppose, a product of the War. I shall not be accused of being actuated by any anti-feminist views on this matter. I strongly support the claim of women to equality before the law, politically, and in every other way, and, therefore, I am not speaking from any prejudice against women as police. The fact remains, however, that this force of women police fulfils only a limited function in comparison with men police, and I think that any Bill which includes them on the same terms as men for pension ought to be taken as an opportunity—of which we all have too few in the House—to raise the whole policy.

I have seen these policewomen in pairs in remote places in the country—at cross roads and so on—where in the ordinary course of events there would be no men police. I do not know what their functions are in places of that sort. I believe they do good work in the great cities, in dealing with young women, not of the unfortunate class, but those who may, for want of a little friendly advice, become members of that class. In country districts and rural suburban districts I cannot see what use they are. If the idea is that they should be able to interfere in irregularities in those districts, it can at once be seen that they would have to be multiplied indefinitely, because they are recognisable at a great distance, and immediately the fact became known that they were on patrol persons who might wish to commit irregularities would naturally go to another part of the district. In the cities, in main thoroughfares and so on, I have no doubt that they do valuable work, but I think that their numbers should be kept as low as possible, solely on account of the financial stringency of the times. If we were a wealthy country, as we were in 1914, I daresay we could afford to have a strong, well-paid, well-organised corps of women police, but to-day we are poor as a result of the War. I am afraid that possibly there is more need of women police than in 1914. The War has not only injured us financially, but has injured us terribly in our moral character. Anyone looking at the police court reports to-day has that fact brought painfully to his notice. I do feel, however, that the policewoman does not justify the expenditure upon her. I see that, in an address given by that sturdy henchman of the Home Secretary, namely, Sir Basil Thomson, he talked of having a vast women police organisation. He wanted people, he said, to be decked out in diamonds and Paris frocks and sent into the fashionable resorts to mix in the most fashionable society, in order to detect the gentleman who, I believe, is known as the swell-mobsman—the criminal who goes about in a swallow-tailed coat and white tie and does not drop his h's. Then he said that he wanted women of all classes, so that it should be a vast intelligence service system assisting the regular force. My hon. and gallant Friend beside me (Colonel Wedgwood) says, in order to spy upon himself and me. That is not my complaint. They can spy upon me as much as they like. If they look at my letters they will find their work well cut out. But that is not my complaint. My complaint is that these grandiose ideas which have sprung up during the War of having a vast intelligence service attached to the police, with male and female members, have got to be dropped in these hard, cold days of penury and stringency with regard to our finances. Therefore, before the Bill is passed, we should have a little more information about this picturesque and no doubt desirable, but at the same time, costly innovation of police women. This is a Bill that affects every constituency in the country, and we all wish the police force well, and the necessary improvements to their lot as outlined in the Bill, I am certain, are welcomed in all sections of the House.

Photo of Mr James Remnant Mr James Remnant , Holborn

While one admits the necessity of pushing on as fast as we can with the legislation of the Session, one is taken rather by surprise and one would have liked, on the Report stage, to have moved Amendments dealing with various matters contained in the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman, who has shown sympathy with those moving Amendments in the earlier stage, would have considered worthy of discussion at least. There is one point specially, amongst a good many others, which I believe not only the Government but all outside who are interested in the police question believe is necessary to make the force throughout the country work on a proper system. I refer to the rather chaotic conditions under which the men now have to serve, some having to serve under a system of 26 years before they get the maximum pension, while others, since 1st July, 1919, have to serve under a 30 years' system before they get their pension; and others again, in 10 or 12 counties, have an age limit by which they have to serve until they are 52 or 55 years of age and only get their pension after 26 years' service if they are able to get a medical certificate. Such a system is quite contrary to the wish certainly of the Home Office, which has always said it is anxious to standardise the terms of service of all the police force. Certainly that was the main point urged by the Desborough Committee. If you are going to have men serving for different terms before they can get their pension, those who retire first naturally consider themselves the lucky ones, and those who remain on and have to serve a longer period are bound to be discontented, and as long as there is discontent in the force we shall not have efficiency. Quite recently, following out the recommendation of the Desborough Report, Barnstaple was merged in the Devon County Police. In Devon the maximum pension is granted at the end of 26 years' service. The Barnstaple men, unless they can get a medical certificate at the end of 26 years, have to serve until they are 55 years of age, so that when they are merged with the Devon County Police you get some men serving 26 years and some 30, while others, unless they retire after 26 years with a medical certificate, for whatever period they may have undertaken to serve, remain on till the age of 55. The same thing is happening in one or two other counties. That is a point which is worthy of the serious consideration of the Home Office. The men to-day are feeling that they ought to be treated on the same lines. You get the men before 1st July, 1919, who contracted under the old system. There are many men who would have joined prior to that date, who were serving with the forces, but were not demobilised in time. Some joined just after 1st July, 1919. They have to serve for 30 years. I put that case to the Home Secretary.

I should like to say a few words on the question of the widow's pension as set out in the Schedule. There again we have not had time to consult with the Home Secretary on the points I should like to have raised. I am credibly informed that the men are anxious that their widows should get a better pension than is allowed under the Bill. Towards that they are quite prepared to make a contribution from their weekly wage. They offer to give a ¼ per cent., in addition to the 2½ per cent. which is at present deducted from their pensions, and the men who have to serve for 30 years against 26 are quite prepared to contribute a ½ per cent. further from their pay in order to be put on the same level as the others, but they are all anxious, in order to get better pensions for their widows, to contribute an additional ¼ per cent. in order that they may have the increase. The point was raised in Committee, and it was stated that the cost of giving the increased scale of pension for the widows would amount to something like £500,000 a year. With all due respect to those who made out that estimate I dispute it entirely. I do not believe it will be anything like that amount. At any rate it is a matter of which the men feel deeply. It is a question which leaves itself open for friendly discussion, and I believe that with a little time given to us we might arrive at a settlement. I hope the Home Secretary will believe that I am not complaining in any way of his treatment of the whole matter. He has been entirely sympathetic and anxious to do all he could. Feeling that, one is all the more anxious to have an opportunity of discussing these points with him. The men are quite willing to contribute, and I am sure that the Home Office would be glad to meet them and to help them, and between the two probably a settlement, amicable and satisfactory, on all these points might be arrived at.

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

These Front Bench arrangements have sometimes far-reaching effects, and certainly the arrangement this afternoon which has brought on this Bill without any notice has been the last of a series of misfortunes which have happened to some of us who were concerned with this matter upstairs. First of all, we met and could not get a quorum.

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

Another day we had arranged to meet, but the meeting had to be postponed to suit the convenience of the Home Secretary. When finally a quorum was obtained, and the Home Secretary was able to attend, several of my hon. Friends and myself were unable to be present because we had been summoned to attend other Committees. In my case I happened to be chairman of another Committee on that day. As a result, we were not able to move Amendments which we had on the Paper; but the Home Secretary was good enough to say that he would have a conference with us with a view to our re-introducing such of these Amendments as he could accept on the Report stage. That intention has been frustrated by what has happened to-day. I only rise now to ask if the right hon. Gentleman can give us an assurance that these Amendments, or some of them, will be considered, and, if possible, introduced in another place. My right hon. Friend is well aware to which Amendments I attach importance.

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

As the House knows, this Bill has come on quite unexpectedly. No one anticipated it less than I did. It was only this afternoon that I was discussing with my hon. Friend (Mr. N. Chamberlain) arrangements for a meeting. It is very important that this Bill should not be lost. It would be a great pity if we lost an opportunity to take it another stage. Of course, there is another place where Amendments can be moved, and I will undertake at once to have a discussion with hon. Members—I know their points—and in regard to any arrangement which is come to I will undertake to have Amendments moved in another place. I will not discuss the question of the widows' pensions to-night; but I am afraid that my hon. Friend (Sir J. Remnant) is not quite correct in his estimate of the cost. However, we can discuss that. The question raised by the hon. and gallant Member (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) as to women police should have been addressed to a meeting of the police authorities rather than to the Home Office.

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

There is nothing in this Bill that makes the employment of women police compulsory. It remains, as it always has been, entirely a matter for the individual police authorities. All that this Bill does provide is that if women police are employed, they must be employed properly. That is all that it does. I am sure the House approves of that. With regard to the Metropolitan police, the few women police we have are exceedingly valuable.

Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON:

After the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman, I do not want to deay the proceedings. The Amendment referred to by the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. N. Chamberlain) covers the case of many officers who during the War, at the request of their watch committees, continued their service, although they were entitled to retire on pension. Having continued their service, I understand that their right to a pension is not in as good a position now as it was before. I should like to make sure that these officers will not be put in a worse position by our passing this Bill. Their position is one of considerable hardship. They continued their service at the request of their watch committees, and some are continuing it now in a period of stress. I understand that their pension may, for other causes which are not at present applicable, be taken away from them if this Bill passes. That is the assurance I received from my own watch committee, and the officers are seriously concerned about the matter.

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

I do not think that my hon. Friend is correct, but if he will discuss the matter with my Friend the Under-Secretary, we will see that the point is dealt with.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I presume that the Home Office has formed some estimate of the cost of this Bill. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any information?

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

I am sorry that I have not the figures with me. The Bill has come on so unexpectedly. The cost will be considerable. I will get the figures and send them on to my hon. and gallant Friend.